“I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.” -Psalm 130:6 NLT
There are times in our lives when things are dark. Although they often come on quickly, their effects remain much longer. Grief and trials are a heavy load to carry. Yet many of us find ourselves laden with it, we carry it with us like an unseen burden. The burdens of grief or trial eclipse the light in our lives much like the moon does the sun. It takes away what once was clearly visible and replaces it with doubt, longing, and darkness.
Several years ago my family had a quick succession of traumatic events that left us in the shadows of grief. While I could find resources on grief and trial (studies of the moon if you will), I rarely found anything that navigated through when it looked like to walk out of grief and trial.
What do you do when the sun becomes visible once again? Do things go back to “normal”, is there a “normal” anymore?
Living In Darkness
During this dark time in my life, Psalm 130:6 connected with me. It wasn’t as much for the reminder that dawn would come, but more that the sentries/watchman longed for it. From my experience, when you are living in the darkness from the eclipse of grief or trial, there are several markers that you come across.
Marker 1: Anxiety/Obsession/Paranoia
People think you are overreacting when in reality, you know what the worst thing that could happen is because it did happen to you. They have the comfort of hypotheticals while you live in the harsher world of realities. This harsh reality can cause you to be anxious, even among seemingly normal daily tasks.
For example, let’s say that you are walking in the woods one time and you get chased by a bear. You escape and are safe.
Stress would look something like: I am going in the woods again and there may be bears. Something that is true, you are mindful of it, it changes your behavior, but you can function.
Anxiety is thinking there may be a bear around each corner, no matter the location. That is how it was for me. The traumatic events left me navigating life with PTSD triggers. If the trigger got hit, the heart started racing. Was it realistic? Many times, no. However, it didn’t change the fact that I knew bears existed and what they could do, because I had experienced it. That was my point of reference – not a hypothetical from someone that had just heard about bears. I knew how big they were and how mean and unpredictable they could be.
When you are in a time of darkness, you live in the reality that bad things do happen and they most often happen unexpectedly. You fear that something bad will happen again to not only you but also to those you care about. You are anxious because you and those you love are/seem threatened.
Marker 2: Fatigue
Living in darkness is exhausting. Not only due to the battling of anxiety or carrying the weight of grief but also due to the constant activity that is going on behind the scenes. I believe that we can feel fatigued in four main areas: mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. In each of these areas, we are taken beyond what we thought possible. Our capacities are diminished or strained. We become accustomed to doubt and begin to question what we once held dear. You may run a marathon and be tired, however, if you find yourself running a marathon every day, fatigue and despair develop after a few days.
Fatigue can cause us to act in ways that we didn’t think possible, both good and bad. It reveals faith, but also doubts. When you are fatigued you have little room for cliche’ and platitudes.
We do not get to these places, many times, because we have not known what to do, but more so because we have so much to do. This is further amplified by additional roles we may have, such as in my case: husband, father, brother, son, director, advisor, etc. The more visible the role, the quicker the fatigue can set in. We often look to leaders in times of darkness, but we must not think them superhuman with limitless capacity. As time grows longer our hearts can grow weary, not just from carrying the weight of grief but also from the duration of the time we are having to carry it.
Marker 3: Disorientation
When trials hit, it is much like a tsunami. They flood in rapidly and sometimes recede quickly. However, as the waters rush out you are left looking around, many times not knowing what you are looking at. What were once landmarks may be gone or hidden by the debris of the situation. Our sense of identity can be in disarray when we are unable to see what we formerly used to define ourselves. In the midst of the darkness, we can feel unmoored from who we once were. It is not as if our faith is gone, it may be there, but in this moment I have lost my grip because the way I was holding it was challenged and it slipped.
When Dawn Breaks
Your imagination can get the best of you in the dark. Yet when the light comes and dawn breaks, the false constructs from our imagination begin to dissipate. Most often it isn’t some rapid healing and everything is fine. Instead, it is a gradual reorientation. At least, it was for me. I found myself experiencing several emotions and realizations as the dawn came, some were comforting, others troubling.
It Takes Time
It isn’t a light switch. When dawn breaks it is gradual. The light does flood in, usually to the deepest areas first. Yet, there is not an immediate change like hitting a light switch. It takes time and requires patience. All the areas of darkness may not recede right away; it will take time for the sun to rise in the sky. This is also a blessing because if we were suddenly made aware of everything, I am not sure we could handle it. I know I couldn’t.
It Brings Relief
There is a sigh that occurs in the soul. A release. As the light returns, the soul releases the tension. I am reminded of a newborn baby crying intensely, but as it settles down, there is always the sigh. The settling. You are no longer fighting, you are no longer in tension. Not to say things are fixed, but there is an easing. You begin to see hope once again; you feel like you weathered the storm.
Reality, Guilt & Shame
As the light comes in we may not always like what we see. The reality that the light reveals shows us what has stood and what has fallen. It shows us what we imagined and what was true. While there is some relief, there may also be shame. We thought that area would have held and not fallen, yet it was the first thing to go. What we may have once prided ourselves on is now a trash heap. As the light comes we see how our values and efforts may have been misplaced. This can evoke a sense of unhealthy shame (“We should have known better…”). It is important during this time to give yourself grace. Most of us have not gone through this before, we didn’t know how things could/would hit.
As the light comes we begin to gain perspective and see things differently. Our value systems often change and our priorities are realigned. The light allows us to see what is most important and what needs to be invested in. This may cause a shift in how we operate and who we connect with relationally. We come out the other side different – not totally, but we must not think things will resume as normal. It will take us a while to be able to acclimate to and verbalize this new perspective. We may feel misunderstood as we attempt to get our bearings, yet as you develop fluency, you can help give voice to others that may go through similar times of darkness.
Daring To Hope
As you see the first glimmer of light, a spark of hope ignites. You are fearful to embrace it because you don’t want it to be extinguished. It takes faith to move towards hope, and it is hard to have faith in the dark. Yet as the light breaks, what was once prayed for can now begin to be seen. The dawning light brings the hope of a new day. It takes faith to move towards it and sometimes, you sit in the light for a while and let it warm the bitter chill from your bones before you “get moving”.
Walking In The Light
The Reality of Atrophy
I wanted to run, but I couldn’t.
A few years ago I tore my ACL. I had to have surgery and during that time my muscles atrophied. Although the surgery fixed my ACL, it did not change the effect of the wound on my muscles. I had to work to get them back.
I believe that in coming out of times of darkness we need to be prepared to deal with atrophy; that we may want to run out and get going, but we can’t, not yet. This isn’t a bad thing, but a natural one. I had to deal with the areas of my faith, soul and heart that had atrophied. I had to deal not only with the wound but the effects of it as well, and it took/takes work.
We may have a false construct of some superhuman faith that walks boldly through trial and comes out unblemished, yet that is not often what we see in scripture. We see people come through hard times, yet they most often have to recover. (Elijah, David, Jesus, Saul…just to name a few) We have to be prepared for the reality that it will take work to walk in the light, and realistically it will take work to do what used to come naturally in some areas. Many times we have to relearn what we thought we knew so well because now, we see it in a new light.
Walking in Vulnerability
God created us to live and grow in community. As you begin to walk in the light, you will feel vulnerable and exposed. The scars of the wounds may be very visible. Sometimes people don’t know what to say or what to do. It takes a great amount of vulnerability to walk in the light. Many times I have found myself having to teach people how to help me, how to be my friend. We may want so badly for this to come naturally, however, we are each unique and the effects of our grief and trial will be unique as well. We may have triggers, weak areas that we need to voice to those around us that seek to help. To walk in the light is to walk in vulnerability – they are inextricably linked.
One of the most helpful things I have found in my journey towards embracing dawn has been the intentional use of beauty and symbolism. God is the source of all beauty. Beauty serves as a reminder of God’s goodness. Many times I tend to forget or I get triggered by a situation and can begin to feel the darkness creeping in. In these times it helps me to have a visual reminder to help me remember the deeper truth. In the Old Testament, we see the building of altars as reminders to the work of God being done in a person’s life. They are markers of identity, of how God has been present even in the darkness. For me, those have been anything from planting a garden, a rose bush, a weeping cherry tree, having a fountain, or a picture. Each of those things remind me of someone or something that God has brought into my life. On the hard days, they are things that help me not forget and awaken my soul.
Friendship in the midst of pain
I wanted to include this small section with some tips on being a friend to someone going through a hard time. I have found myself, even having been through hard times, not knowing what to do for someone I care about. It helps me to remember these three things:
Be present – You don’t have to say anything. Simply be there, be present. Give them space but let them know you are there, close by. Most times those suffering are not looking for a quick fix, they are looking for companionship. I heard a lot of cliches when we were in our dark time and they slid off like water off a duck’s back. Do you know what didn’t? My friends who were safe enough that I could cry and they didn’t say anything; to whom I could let it out, without judgement or without having some nervous encouragement that was offered. That is what helped. Them being there, not what they said, but what they did.
Be patient – Your friend is learning how to do this. Be patient. They don’t know how to say things or why they feel a certain way. They may be learning triggers and how to verbalize them. Be patient and stay flexible, you will most likely have to alter some things, but in doing so you show the value of the friendship.
Be proactive – You can ask them what they need, but I guarantee you they won’t know. So make it up. Send care packages, mow their yard, or drop off a meal (after the 3 days that are usually allotted for grief). One of the biggest acts of love a friend showed me was when I was at home and heard a knock at the door. I open it up and there is my friend, he just looks at me and says, “I’m sorry. You don’t have to talk to me, I’m here to clean your house.” – and for the next hour he did. That simple act has stuck with me five years later. Jesus reached out to heal the leper, He could have just spoken it, but he touched him. He was intentional, so is a good friend.
Where am I currently? Night, daybreak, noon?
When darkness comes in, what are the lies that you are most prone to believe?
If light hits this area, what may be some things you would see?
Take a few moments for this next bit:
What helps you walk in the light?
What are some things you have or can add in your life that are intentionally beautiful to point you back to truth on a hard day?