This morning’s post was contributed by Kimberlee Conway. Kimberlee Conway Ireton is the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year (InterVarsity, 2008).
Walking in Darkness
by Kimberlee Conway Ireton
As Lent approached this year, I found myself in a dark place. This darkness was triggered when I learned I was expectedly pregnant with our third child. It deepened as my pregnancy made me sick. And it became black as night when a dear friend’s seemingly healthy daughter was suddenly diagnosed with leukemia.
I do not like living in darkness. I do not like feeling alone and afraid. I do not like wondering where God is. And I especially do not like the agnosticism that creeps into the darkness with me, whispering its words of skepticism and doubt along my skin and in my heart.
But I have learned that I cannot run from the darkness. I can only walk through it. Walking in the way of Jesus, this Lent, for me, is walking by faith rather than sight, by hope rather than conviction.
I want to believe the good news of the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and on my best days, I do believe it. But I confess there are days, and lately there have been many of them, when I don’t believe this, when I live in fear that it is not true, when I live in fear that God either is not real or else cannot be trusted.
Such fear undermines my very identity, the bedrock of who I usually believe myself to be: a beloved daughter of the God who gives good and perfect gifts. The darkness grows deeper.
But then, words. Words as often as anything else pull me back to the light of faith when I am wandering in the darkness. I was comforted last month to read these words of George MacDonald. He put them in the mouth of one of his characters, an aging pastor who is facing death and wondering if his life has somehow been misspent, if somehow all that he preached and claimed to believe wasn’t really true after all. But then he writes,
- Even if there be no hereafter, I would live my time believing in a grand thing that ought to be true, if it is not….Let me hold by the better than the actual and fall into nothingness off the same precipice with Jesus and John and Paul and a thousand more, who were lovely in their lives, and with their deaths make even the nothingness into which they have passed like the garden of the Lord.
When I read those words, I wept. For they reminded me that I can choose to believe even if I don’t feel that belief.
And so on those days when I don’t quite believe, I look away from myself, my feelings, my fears. I look out and around, noticing small things that are good: cherry blossoms, a hug from my daughter, a box of new-to-me maternity clothes from a friend. I give thanks for these small mercies, choosing to see them as gifts from God even when I don’t believe it. I give thanks that the darkness is not so dark that I cannot make that choice.
On those days when I doubt, I cling all the harder to Jesus, whose way is the way of truth, the truth that sets me free to live and to love in the midst of suffering, the truth that frees me to choose that suffering will render me beautiful rather than bitter and compassionate rather than callous.
On those days when I feel afraid, I cling to His promise that He is with me, that He does not shrink from darkness, that He will never forsake or abandon me.
I choose to trust him.
And eventually, the choosing becomes easier, the darkness lifts, and walking in Jesus’ way is not quite such a struggle…for a while. But the darkness will always return, often unexpectedly. That is why I need Lent, because it bears witness to the reality of darkness, of doubt, of fear, of pain. And it carries me through those real places, real experiences into one that is more fully and truly Real: the Reality of Resurrection, of Light, of Life.
For now, it’s still Lent. I still walk in darkness. But I am beginning to see glimmers of that Light. I am beginning to walk by sight again, with conviction. I give thanks to God for this mercy, too.