Stumbling In The Darkness

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They say that the night is always darkest right before the dawn. I think the idea comes from the thought that the silver reflections of light from the moon disappear as it slips below the skyline & yet, as it is still too early for the sun to rise, the earth finds itself cast in its darkest hours. Figuratively, I think we can all find these moments of time in our live’s & without a doubt, the last few months have been some of my darkest.

Wrestling with a deep sense of failure, I had stopped pretty much everything I was participating in. After more than fifteen years of serving in ministry, pursuing the growth of my understanding & education of God, & relationships in community discipleship & development, I had decided to give up on the dream of finding sustainable meaningful work within my calling. Listening to the successes of my peers, sitting amidst the community’s that had grown around them after having lost all of mine & feeling there was nothing… no one left, I felt like the joke of my cohorts. Is there nothing left for me to be a part of? Where do I belong? Where am I suppose to go from here? Who really cares? I felt spent… exhausted… humiliated… done.

Then came an email from my friend & mentor from my undergraduate years, Ron Fraser. He had wrote me about getting together in the new year as he would be teaching a course in town on ‘Environment & Lifestyle’ & was also preparing a message for their church on the Peace of Christ. Wanting to know my perspective he asked, “I know you struggle with life circumstances, but also have a high level of coping, the ability to move on even in the midst of them.  Where does that come from in your life?

I was at a loss of how to answer him. How should I respond to a question of contentment when I was anything but content? Still, I felt I needed to respond. So here is my best effort while I continue to stumble in the darkness.

Life isn’t always pretty. Seriously, coping & dealing with the ups & downs of life’s journey is messy & rarely a steady even keel journey of positivity & success. It is a grind of clashing emotions, competing demands for decision making while knowing not everyone will agree, finding great loss & deep grief while on the road, & learning to live with the failures of making wrong choices.

Seriously, coping & dealing with the ups & downs of life’s journey is messy & rarely a steady even keel journey of positivity & success.

The truth about getting out of the mess is, not to rush or take the short cuts that are so often tempting. While we don’t want to simply “wallow in the grave”, we need to be attentive to the call to move forward, to put things back in there places one step at a time, to come out & begin to let the community around us unbind the shackles we find ourselves in.

Life is never done alone. We live in a society that believes in the myth of independence. When we are asked about another’s failure or hardship we tout our heads to the side with the judgmental spoken & unspoken words, “Am I my brothers keeper?!” It is this unreal expectation that you alone are responsible for overcoming all short falls & mastering your own failures & success without the help of others. But the reality is, both failures & successes are orchestrated through communal efforts & the only way forward is the willingness to allow a trusted community of fellow sojourners to not only shape, guide, & grow who you are; but for you to do the same for them.

While I philosophically can express & understand this principle, the truth is I know I am really lacking at this right now. The Inception Of Wonder is an articulate & dynamic world online but, it is really just a world of one in practice - me. I know I can’t do this all on my own & it is my greatest hope for a future but, I deeply desire for this practice to become a tribal community of others to gather around; not just online, but in person & in formal physicality. I don’t wish to be a lone wonderer tosed to & fro by the waves, I desire a communal inception of missionality & spirituality to wonder.

What might this look like? Maybe a gathering of friends learning & sharing our imaginations around a table in the local coffee shop or my living room. Perhaps a group of us incarnating & serving a local social justice initiative (Mustard Seed, Rally’s, Clean Ups, etc.). Or maybe someone writing a post or sharing one of the podcasts in the hopes of inspiring others about our tribal community. Just trying to hold to the hope that I am not alone!

Life is about enduring all things. Earlier I said you can’t rush or take short cuts out of the mess. We’d like to think that when we are stumbling in the darkness we might find a quick solution, an easy out to be free of the emotional & painful struggles we find ourselves in the midst of. But when we take those easy outs, it tends to only lead us into deeper messes & darker holes.

I remember speaking at a college gathering about the story of Job a few years ago. Having a life of relative success & rich in family & notoriety, it would be Job’s darkest hours as the devil would strike him with affliction after affliction. Using the illustration of one of those coin donation funnels you see in local malls during Christmas, I described how Job slowly watched as his life revolved round & round only for his world to spin smaller & smaller, faster & faster, as he lost his possessions, his family, his friends, his health… only to find himself in a dizzying world of grief & disbelief. “Where are you God?!”, he would cry out.

Desiring the easy out, his wife would say, “Enough of this! Curse God & die!” His friends would say, “You must have done wrong. Just repent & pay your debts.” And yet, Job endured to eventual have his audience with God. The willingness to endure all things in life is to find ourselves patiently in angst for being in audience with God.

I am still in the midst of my darkest hours. Yet, I deeply desire the coming dawn. Ron’s email reminded me of a deep memory to which he himself probably has no recollection of. Journeying through the life of Paul & the Acts community, Ron asked a number of us years ago to memorize Paul’s words to the people of Athen’s. Those words have never left me, particularly when he said, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:26-27)

Like Plato’s cave, we all can find ourselves stumbling in the darkness, lost amidst shadows & false senses of who we are & what should be, as we feel our way towards the promises of wonder. In my own life I have learned that even in the midst of the darkest hours, when hope seems all lost, it is not me who is truly enduring for tomorrow, for tomorrow I will become someone, something else. It is the beauty of the coming dawn & all its wonders that endures to make all things new.

Every good teacher knows the futility of rapping on his desk & calling: Pay attention please! True attention is an involuntary self-surrender to the object of attention. The child who is absorbed is utterly relaxed. The adult mind, also, must be unstring, receptive, expectant, before there can be any creative insight.
Again & again this is the state of mind in which new truth dawns. We do not work it out or think it out; rather, we have the sense of waiting for the disclosure of something that is already there. Attention means being in attendance... To be ‘in the Spirit’ is to be vividly aware of everything the moment contains, the twigs of the thorn bush as well as the presence of God.
— John V. Taylor