Have you ever found yourself in a dark place? Maybe physically? Or even emotionally? If so, then you know how hard it can be to get out of the dark.
I remember the thrill I used to feel as a kid when fellow ice skaters and I, free for an hour before our next session, would run into the old unused locker room at the rink for an old-fashioned game of hide and seek. The catch? When the door closed behind us and we’d found our hiding spots, the switch would click leaving us with zero light to see by. I can remember shaking with anticipation and fear as I crouched in some corner while a heavy cloak of darkness snuggled in around me. I can still hear my own heartbeat telling me I was a sitting duck. I knew that if my eyes didn’t adjust fast enough for me to escape when the seeker cracked that door open, well, it was game over. And I can remember, once or twice, fighting the rise of irrational panic. What if I had hidden myself too well? What if the seeker found everyone else but me, and they all left, leaving me in a darkness I felt helpless to navigate?
Those moments may have left a strange, eerie taste in my soul, but they left a tiny thrill, too. I knew, after all, that everything would work out just fine. But the dark moments in my mind? Those didn’t leave any such thrilling imprints for me to reminisce over. No. They left scars.
While I can be an emotional person with generous highs and lows, in normal circumstances I have the capacity to flirt with depression but never actually enter in. Unless things get really bad. And that’s happened a couple of times – when all hope was sucked away, sending me on a nose-dive into the dark.
My tendency, during those times, was to frantically rush around in the blackened crevices of my soul, searching for some sort of ladder to lead me back up to truth and light. I longed to breathe. To hope. To dream again. The problem, though, is that darkness breeds, well, darkness. And so by focusing so completely on my own pain and hopelessness – by rummaging around in the very place I didn’t want to be – I only sunk deeper.
Until the cracks came, filtering tiny bits of light back into my soul, heart and mind. By God’s grace alone, I was finally able to direct my attention for brief fluttery moments on hopeful things outside my blackened world – letting my heart gasp a tiny breath of sweetened life-filled air. The more gasping breaths I took, the more strength I gained for the next breath. And the greater my attention span to focus on those things outside my pain. Slowly, I began to rise to the surface towards the light and away from my prison.
It took a long time. I struggled to recapture emotions. Like hope. Anticipation. Joy. And trust. But slowly, those things came, one after the other.
Why am I being so vulnerable and sharing this? Maybe to some, having been in ministry for 19 years at home and abroad should imply I’m above all of the struggle of life. Or at least, maybe I’m expected to present my life as having been so. But that’s not real. It’s not true. And it certainly doesn’t help anyone. What helps someone (and myself) is when I embrace the valleys I’ve walked through and eek out as many life-changing lessons from them as possible—letting them first change me. To you know, test them. Then I can say in all honesty, hey! This worked for me. Maybe it could work for you, too!
So what did work for me? What helped me to find points of hope to which I could anchor me outside of whatever pain I was experiencing? The answer can be found in this question: What lights me (you) up?
God’s voice lights me up. When He speaks to me I feel connected. Loved. Important. Creativity lights me up. Give me a camera or a blank page and I’ll go hang out in the playground of my mind where only light and color are permitted to enter. After my play time I feel refreshed. Free from myself. Invigorated. Or let me have a deep conversation with someone. Heart to heart. Because, well, you light me up.
But what lights YOU up? What gives YOU life? What gives you hope and and the feelings of anticipation and joy? When you know what these things are, you can work them into your life so you can regularly and intentionally anchor your soul to them, using them as life-sources outside of the messes we all face. These things that light you up can make a claim on your focus, relieving you of the stresses and anxieties and even pain we all face. When light comes in, darkness must flee. So, find your sources of light. Of life. And hold onto them. Let them anchor your soul to the One who is Light. He will keep you safe.