A Great Light

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2, ESV)

As we close the chapter on another Advent Season and another year (some would say the “mother of all years”!), these words from the prophet Isaiah echo again the hope of the world: that Light has come, and darkness cannot overcome it (see John 1:5).

I don’t know about you, but for me this historic year, 2020, has seemed particularly dark. It wasn’t just learning to live through a pandemic, as the streets became quiet and everyone holed up in their houses, scheming to find a source of toilet paper. As church went online and group meetings became Zoom meetings, we all felt the darkness of isolation. There were many adjustments for all of us, and we’re still reeling as COVID makes a strong comeback surge during the holidays. I hope that the most important lessons we are learning are that we are resilient, that we need each other, and that our God is faithful and still in control even when things look darkest.

It’s been awhile since I shared any thoughts on this blog because it has been a year of personal darkness for me. I started the year as a brand new retiree, looking forward to beginning a new chapter – a new adventure. I was finally free of the day to day grind of earning a paycheck, and I was looking forward to the chance to try some new things: writing more, learning the cello, working on landscaping our new place.

What darkness did I hit then? These opportunities were real, and in one sense, all I needed to do was pursue and grasp them. In one word, I ran into myself. Some sage once quipped, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I had never found that truth more true! Through work done in change groups, I began to understand – finally – just how stuck I was, how bound I was by childhood trauma that I had carried all my life. It became clear how my early life responses to that trauma had played out over decades, causing me to make really bad choices and hurt those I loved. Living in that space of supposed safety had actually insulated me from true love – true relationship with God my Father and with everyone else important in my life. Those fight or flight responses that helped me survive early trauma had only set me up for failure in adulthood, in everything from relationships to vocation (or lack of!).

So, when I thought I was set to enjoy a grand new adventure, I actually was given the opportunity to finally face myself. And there is some scary stuff in here that needs to come out and see the light of day to truly be healed. I am working now on leaving behind old coping behaviors that were supposed to protect me (and maybe did in the very beginning) but only destroy me now, at age 61.

Is there light then? “Ya, you-betcha!” my wife’s Norwegian forebears might have exclaimed. Is there still work to do? Yep, lots. Is there hope? Astounding and unlimited hope! As long as I keep trusting, pressing, fighting. Running to the danger, into the darkness. Because as I run toward it, not away from it, the darkness will surely shatter.

I’ve seen a Great Light.

The Fear of Being Without

By Rand Kreycik

I’m kind of freaked out right now.  Not supremely, but kind of.

It’s the empty shelves.  Having never lived in a communist country – having always had enough … this is freaky and a bit scary for me.

Okay, I’m one of those people who is OCD about toilet paper.  Always have been.  My family has always made fun of me, and it’s been an inside joke for years in our home.

And now the shelves are empty.  Always!  Oh, there are signs on them that say things like, “We are getting new deliveries of paper goods every Tuesday and Thursday.”  I haven’t seen them.  Sometime between delivery and when I can make it to the store, the locusts descend … and the shelves are ALWAYS empty.

My fear is, of course laughable.  Unless.  Unless the supply chains are disrupted and toilet paper stops coming!  If all the production workers are being told to stay home, who’s going to make stuff for us?  Who’s going to package it?  Who’s going to deliver it?

Apocalypse!

No, it’s not.  It’s still a First World Problem.  Stop, think about what people used to do.  We can still dig an outhouse.  We can still use the Sears catalogue (wait, do they make those anymore??).  The point is, we are spoiled.  The rest of the world finds a way to survive, every day, without even one-tenth of the conveniences we deem vital.

And what does this say about my faith?  What about Philippians 4:6-7, which we’ve all memorized?

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

Are these nice, comforting platitudes, or is God’s Word real, active, sharp? (Hebrews 4:12)

And what about Luke 12?

22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (ESV)

Do I believe it?  Will I ever truly be without the things I really need?  Jesus makes the answer pretty clear.

Will I rest and trust in Him alone?  That’s the question.  Good question.

Die the Good Death

I am a latecomer to the Harry Potter stories, by J. K. Rowling. In my early days as a parent, I legalistically banned them from my children’s reading list, concerned about the magic, wizardry, and witchcraft depicted.

After watching through the movie series with my family in recent weeks, I am struck by the consistent theme of self-sacrifice Rowling has infused her stories with.  This focus has overcome the obvious theological problems in the series, in my mind.  The stories portray good things to live for … and die for.

In one of the most powerful scenes of the movies, Professor Dumbledore greets Harry after he has made the difficult choice to give his life for his friends, to defeat the enemy of all good, Lord Voldemort.  “Harry, you wonderful boy.  You brave, brave man!”

That puts me in mind of the greeting all true believers in Jesus hope to hear at the end of their race:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)  With the Apostle Paul, we all hope to be able to say, at our life’s waning, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Truth be told, I like the sound of “fight the good fight” because perhaps it means I can retain my pride and do it in my own strength.  “Look at me, Lord!  Haven’t I finished well?”  Finishing well, however, is clearly represented throughout Scripture as dying well.  “Dying the good death,” we might say.  Just as Harry Potter did, receiving the commendation of his master.  And on a far higher plane, the only way any of us will receive our Heavenly Master’s approval.

I’m coming to understand that living faithfully and loving fiercely actually involves dying, daily … and ultimately … for those we love.  That’s our calling, and that’s how each of us will finish well.  All in our Savior’s love and grace and power.  He who died the best death, crying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)