Last week I found what I had been looking for – a framed photo of light shining into a forest. I had discovered a similar piece while we were on vacation in August, 2017, and purchased it, planning to hang it in my new office. But the office completion was delayed, and before I could get the picture there, it found its way onto my bedroom wall. I love waking up and seeing the sunlight pouring through the trees, making the grass of the forest floor such a vibrant green. Last week, back at Tahquamenon Falls in the upper peninsula of Michigan, I was able to find something similar for my office. They had many beautiful scenes available, but I kept going back to the ones featuring the sun breaking through.
Life can seem pretty dark at times. Sometimes a pitch black of grief, despair, or depression, like when they turn all the lights off in Ohio Caverns and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Sometimes dark and foggy confusion that keeps you searching for landmarks, slows you down, and stresses you out. Sometimes overcast and gloomy, like a heavy mood or anger. Sometimes there is a shadowy darkness of evil, sinister and almost palpable.
There is something so beautiful and alive and comforting about light, especially sunlight. And there is something like sunlight that shines into our lives and lifts us out of dark places. I’m sure you’ve had those moments, where you sense the warmth and the glow of light entering your soul.
Wouldn’t it be great to have that energy present all the time? To live in the light and never have to deal with darkness?
Check out God’s message to His people written by Isaiah:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
When you see the naked, to clothe them,
And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
And your healing will quickly appear;
Then your righteousness will go before you,
And the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
With the pointing finger and malicious talk,
And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
Then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:6-11
There are many instances in the Bible when we are told that God is light, and to be close to God is to be in the light. What I love about these words from Isaiah is that we are given some insight into things we can do that will result in more light in our lives. While the actions listed vary in scope, encompassing work towards ending oppression, feeding the hungry, providing clothing, and even being present and available to your family, they all involve focusing on others with the intention to meet their needs. When we need light the most, when we are hurting, struggling, stressed, angry, confused, we get relief and healing by serving others. This really works!
I remember Sheila Cupples, who had been fighting cancer and dealing with the side effects of cancer treatments for years. She started her own campaign which she called “Find A Bigger Problem,” encouraging people to stop looking at what they were going through and find a way to help someone else who was suffering. Specifically, she invested herself in helping women in Nigeria who needed treatment for HIV/AIDS. Serving others turned on a light for her that carried her through her cancer journey with a grace that was inspiring, and she was intentional about sharing this “secret” with everyone she could, so they could find a way to reach outside themselves, serve others, and feel the same light.
One winter Wednesday a few years ago, Becky McClelland met me at her door when I stopped to pick up her grandson. She smiled and handed me a package – roasted cinnamon sugar nuts that she had made that day. In the middle of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, she had taken time and energy to make something to give. I can only assume that besides the way that touched me, the making and the giving brought Becky some light in a dark time.
Maybe you find yourself in darkness right now, anywhere from cranky to nearly immobilized by something that seems too heavy to bear. Maybe not, but if not, you can be sure the time is coming-it is part of life. Join me in committing to fight against your darkness by reaching out. Make a list of ways you can do that. Maybe even use Isaiah’s words as a template.
Loose chains of injustice-sponsor a child and write them a letter, spend some time learning about a social issue and pick some way you can work for change https://ourmissionispossible.org/
Set the oppressed free, break every yoke-volunteer at a drug rehab program or for an organization fighting human trafficking
Share your food with the hungry, spend yourself on behalf of the hungry-donate food and/or time to a local food pantry or make a meal to take to someone who is sick
Provide shelter for the poor wanderer-help out at a homeless shelter, check out what Habitat for Humanity is doing near you and join in
When you see the naked, clothe them-ask a teacher you know if there is a child that needs a hoodie or a coat, and buy it
Be available to your own family-play a card game, plan a family dinner, write a note of encouragement, put down your phone
Stop pointing your finger and stop malicious talk-this speaks for itself (ouch!)
Meet the needs of the oppressed-visit at a nursing home, mentor a younger person, go on a service trip https://be2live.org/
You make your own list. Don’t be held back by thinking these things are too big; it’s OK to start small. But start. And continue. Watch for the light breaking through your personal darkness and illuminating the darkness of others. Feel the healing and strength and energy.
Jesus, thanks that You are light. Because of You, I don’t have to live in darkness. Still there are dark moments and days in my life. Please give me the strength to recognize the darkness and use it as a reminder to reach out rather than retreat. Bless and multiply my efforts to serve others, and bring light to others through me. I pray for each person reading this, that they will see You and Your light, that they will know that the You are stronger than any darkness, that they will open up and give, especially when they find themselves in a dark place.
“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.” Psalm 89:15