Some time ago I shared these drawings from an old notebook, about breaking through to see the light of hope even in the midst of darkness and despair.  To hear God saying, ‘I am still up here’.

This reminds me of the hidden realities and how my experience of them varies according to: 1: the stage in a journey, and 2: the posture I choose in a given moment.

This reminds me of the hidden realities and how my experience of them varies according to:
1: the stage in a journey, and
2: the posture I choose in a given moment.

A few years on I see another picture.  Sometimes the darkness is so great, so deep, we can’t reach a way out of it.  Then we need to know and trust the light deep in our hearts, to be able to behold it even in the presence of darkness.  Training our spiritual eyes on truth and keeping them fixed there even as the dark clouds pass, we will find the light is not just ‘up there’ but also ‘right here’ with us whatever is happening.

Light in Darkness Drawing

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!…”

But do we believe that goodness is real, and really greater than the darkness?  If we don’t, the darkness will fill our vision when it comes.

For me, the horror of recent world events caught me already reeling from personal disappointments with God and brought darkness and fear to my mind in a whole new way.   I know I am not alone in this 21st anxiety.

Can I break through the cloud of fear, the cloud of Isis, of Ebola, of political corruption and economic crisis?  The darkness of fragmented communities closer to home, fear and suspicion in my own town? The mourning for better times now past, and the well-reasoned anticipation that things will only get worse?  The underlying pain of tragedies in my own family and the long, wearying frustrations in my own life?

I could break though it all as long as I believed that goodness was stronger.   But my trust in God had taken a battering – and goodness has always, for me, been synonymous with God.  Actually I still believed that God is good – I had too much past evidence of this in my life.  But deep down I’d begun to wonder if he was either not strong enough or, more likely, not really concerned enough to intervene in any of this.  There was evidence to suggest this was true.  And therefore, perhaps to all intents and purposes I was on my own.

And then all the problems of the world fell on my shoulders.  And in my weakness I had no hope or strength to carry them.  Of course, I couldn’t possible carry them.

But as He has done so often before, in his own frustrating timing, later than I would have wished, He stirred hope in me again.  First He led me to what I have called our secret woods,  bringing to mind Psalm 23: ‘…He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.’  This shabby woodland has become to me a symbol of the life and peace that may be hidden away in the most unexpected places.

I started to prioritise the still times and safe places that we all need.  This was a big step forward: allowing myself to retreat like this was a healthy acknowledgement of my weakness – that I can’t expect to be strong and resilient all the time – I need constant restoration, and a place to pour out my sorrows and find rest.

‘The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still’

Yet too often I continued to reject stillness for desperate activity or anxiety – the frantic buzzing of the bee trapped in a web.

Because there was still a niggle in the place of rest.  Even as I rediscovered the incomparable comfort of God’s presence I wondered if He was only my comforter.  Could He also be the warrior-king I need Him to be in the face of evil?  Is the image of the shepherd of sheep too weak for my deepest needs?

And now, through a message from a friend, He has brought to mind more of that Psalm:

‘… I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.’ 

And of course that line is written in the context of the darkest valley.  So I decided for the first time to look into what the rod and staff used by a shepherd really were, and why they should be a comfort.

I encourage you to read more here but in summary the rod is a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation.  A weapon against threats, a tool of loving discipline.  He is no weak shepherd, not merely meek and mild.  But it is also used to count and examine the sheep, for example parting the wool to detect any hidden problems that needed to be dealt with.  “This is a most searching process entailing every intimate detail. It is, too, a comfort to the sheep for only in this way can its hidden problems be laid bare before the shepherd.” 

And I am reminded that he searches me, knows me, tests my anxious thoughts and leads me in better ways.  I know, in many different ways that He is really doing this.

And the staff – it is a symbol of comfort, a tool for prods of guidance, and for rescue.  The shepherd talks of, ‘sheep stuck fast in labyrinths of wild roses or brambles where they had pushed in to find a few stray mouthfuls of green grass. Soon the thorns were so hooked in their wool they could not possibly pull free, tug as they might. Only the use of the staff could free them from their entanglement.’And I know this is where I so often find myself – and I have known both His strength and His comfort in the past, pulling me free.

I am reminded that the fight is against ‘…the principalities and powers; the dark forces of evil in this world…’.  And the place where this fight begins for all of us is in the dark strongholds that have taken root in our own minds.   It is this personal darkness that leads to the darkness of war, abuse, negligence and corruption that besets our world.  And though I still long to see God intervening visibly in the events of the world, I know that His primary concern has always been the individual human heart.  And to defeat the darkness in my own heart is a big enough miracle for starters.

This is where my hope begins.  As I see His light, there is a chance I may lead others to His light.  And that is all I can do; all He would ever ask me to do.  I don’t need to carry the weight of the world – I’ll leave that to Him.  I only need to be a light on the hill where has has placed me.  And I can only do even this as I behold Him, choosing not to fear the darkness, for He is stronger.