“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Some days, everywhere I look I see darkness—depression, divorces, death, evictions, job losses, chronic pain, the ravages of addiction, church woundedness, the damage of emotional and physical abuse. Life in the trenches can be overwhelming, and during these times I wonder, “Where is the Good News in these hard places? What does hope look like in the midst of despair? When will my friends ever find relief? When will I feel peace?”
It’s so easy to get discouraged.
And then I remember that just because it’s dark, it doesn’t mean there’s no light.
Just because circumstances are ugly, it doesn’t mean there is no beauty in the midst. Just because things are hard, it doesn’t mean there’s a complete absence of mercy. Just because there’s dissonance, it doesn’t mean there also can’t be peace.
One of the most significant things I continue to learn on this downward journey is what it means to live in the tension of this paradox in my own life, in the lives of my friends, in God. Life can be full of good and bad, knowns and unknowns, depravity and dignity, hard and easy, dark and light. At the same time.
Embracing this is not natural; in fact, it’s completely against my human tendency to want things to be clear—and not just kind of clear. I like crystal clear. I like to know which category to put things in. But when I do that, the scales usually tip toward the dark.
It can be easy to think that our society has become worse—more depraved over the years. But in reality, since the beginning of time, the spirit of darkness has been at work, pulling people toward power, evil, self-centeredness, separation, loneliness, hate, and corruption. This is nothing new. When it comes to these things, the world that Jesus entered as a baby wasn’t all that different than the world we live in now; the same issues apply and many are still looking for the same things that they were looking for 2,000 years ago: justice, mercy, help, hope, understanding, love, and light.
But I think what happened to them then, and what keeps happening to us, is that we look for the dark to suddenly become light. We want a dramatic rescue, immediate results, a clear explanation, a miraculous healing.
One of the things that I love about the gospels is how completely contrary Jesus was to what people expected. They wanted a strong king, not a humble servant. They wanted an acceptable interpretation of the law, not riddles that no one could easily understand. They wanted black and white, not gray.
This force is still at work in numerous ways, causing so many of us to feel disappointed, confused, and abandoned by God. Oh, how I understand that feeling! Almost every time something goes awry in my life, the first place I tend to go is, “I must be doing something wrong or it wouldn’t be so dark.” Then I spend so much energy praying desperately for the dark to be gone that I sometimes completely forget to notice the light.
This world is hard. It is harsh. This side of heaven there are some things I will never see healed the way that I want them to be healed, and there will be injustices that will never be made completely right. I’ll admit, this reality really ticks me off.
But then I remember that Jesus didn’t promise that this dark world would suddenly become light. Instead, He promised tastes of the kingdom now, that He would shine his reflection through us and be constantly at work redeeming, restoring, and bringing glory until we all take our last breath.
Until then, I want to remember that in the midst of this dark world, my best hope—our best hope—is not to spend energy cursing the darkness. All that yelling at it hasn’t seemed to make it go away (although I do believe a good cursing now and then can feel really cathartic). What seems to help the most is to light a candle.
To call out the good that others might not see.
To practice love instead of hate.
To celebrate what is instead of what isn’t.
To notice God’s image in the midst of the rubble.
To honor any sliver of light, good, hope, mercy, justice, kindness, compassion, we possibly can.
To celebrate the beauty in the midst of the ugly.
To notice the light in the midst of the dark.
Yeah, willing the darkness away never seems to work. But there are an awful lot of candles that sure could use lighting. Maybe that’s our most important role as Christ’s hands and feet—to be candle lighters for each other.