On a warm summer evening many years ago, I attended a farewell party for a friend who had discerned a volunteer mission overseas. The evening was marked by endless conversation, a toast at midnight, and blessings for the journey ahead. It was a bittersweet farewell, and no one really wanted the night to end. Shortly before 4:00 a.m., in an effort to delay bidding good-bye just a little while longer, a few of us headed over to a favorite park along Lake Michigan to watch the sunrise over the water.
Sitting at the water’s edge with my legs draped over the rocks, lapping up splashes of shifting tide, I experienced a sense of timelessness. In those pre-dawn hours, night and day became inseparable. As the earth gradually turned again toward the sun, the darkness of night faded, hints of pink and orange emerged, and soon the horizon was bright with daylight. The birds awakened and suddenly the trees were alive with fluttering leaves and morning song.
It was the strangest sensation to witness darkness turning into day. On a typical night, we go to sleep and wake up to discover a new day has dawned. But having spent the entire night awake, I witnessed how time itself is continuous. The passage of time is endless and eternal. God never sleeps even through the darkest moments of the night.
As the psalmist prays,
If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me,
and night shall be my light” —
Darkness is not dark for you,
and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one. (Ps 139:11-12)
The darkness of the overnight hours:
How often do you find yourself awake in the middle of the night and unable to fall back asleep, whether you’ve been jolted awake by a passing thunderstorm or stirred out of bed in need of the bathroom. Sometimes the daily stresses of life keep me tossing-and-turning, replaying a difficult conversation with a coworker, or anxiously anticipating a big presentation.
One of my ministry colleagues calls these episodes “waking up to pray with the monks” – a reference to monastic communities who pray The Liturgy of the Hours at regular intervals, including Vigils, which is typically prayed between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. There is comfort in knowing that somewhere in the world, tucked away in a monastery, someone else is awake and praying for us.
Sometimes I give up on sleep altogether, toss the covers off the bed, and find my way to the big cozy chair in the living room (a favorite place for prayer). Like Eli bids to young Samuel who is awakened by God during the night, I think to myself, “If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” (1 Samuel 3:7-11) Thus, I say to God, “If I must be awake at this awful hour, then I would just as well spend this time with you.” A simple reading of the psalms is usually enough to lull me back to sleep.
Darkness as a season of life:
Similarly, there may be entire seasons of life that feel like we’re stuck awake at 4:00 a.m. I imagine periods of grief, unemployment, and infertility all share these same qualities: long stretches of darkness, wishing this were all a dream, staring out at an infinite horizon, praying for daylight to come, begging the universe to turn back towards the light.
I have friends who are courageously walking through a difficult cancer journey. It is inspiring to behold them walking through the darkness, as they wait for signs of remission and healing. They are certainly not ignorant or unrealistic about the gravity of this disease. Their days are marked by doctor’s appointments and disappointment when their plans need to change. But they have intentionally chosen to watch for signs of beauty amid the suffering, to express gratitude for the little things that bring them joy, to go for short walks when they’re able, and to enter holy spaces. They have allowed darkness and light to co-exist, where darkness and light are but one. They live by the motto that it is only when it’s dark outside that we’re able to see the stars.
I often wonder about God’s design in giving us day and night. God created the sun to mark the day and the moon to mark the night, but life itself is one continuous plane of time. God does not hold regrets about yesterday, nor anxieties about tomorrow. God abides with us in the present time – here, now, and always.
Pray with Lamentations 3:21-23: God’s mercy is made new each morning
Forgiveness: Making Friends with Time by Vinita Hampton Wright
Deep in the Darkness by Michelle Francl-Donnay
Read Hope is the Light in the Darkness by Becky
Milestones like the holidays can leave us searching for light in the darkness of grief. Join us for our live virtual retreat, Grieving with Jesus During Advent: Receiving Light in the Darkness.
Photo by Guillaume Galtier on unsplash.com