For it is You who lights my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
I have been blessed by these words this week. Our God is amazing, isn’t He? Darkness and light are alike to Him, and He commands both of them. Recently in language class we talked about fear, and our tutor said he is very afraid of the dark. I recalled that all of the Central Asians I have known have been afraid of darkness. Much of Central Asia has no “night life,” as westerners know it. People believe that evil spirits roam at night, so they stay indoors as much as possible. According to a friend of mine, her sister stumbled over a spirit on her way to the outhouse one night and was so terrified that she became ill for three weeks as she physically struggled in spiritual darkness.
I recalled how the LORD has enlightened my own struggle with darkness while a cross-cultural worker. One kind of darkness I have encountered on the field arises from a conflict of values. Here, we do deal with things which are common back home: children’s education, for example, or evangelism, or office work. Mundane things. In a hostile government or society, however, holding these values responsibly can feel like a question of longevity on the field. Our “mundane” is lived in a potentially-threatening environment of norms that are foreign to our Christculture, like Quran class, bribery, ridicule, or anti-Christian law. The threat without can provoke fearful, dark thoughts within, and a storm of values can darken team and family life or cause the individual to feel alone in deepening inner shadows.
For example, when my child cries to not go to school, do I take her anyway or keep her home? If homeschool is not legal, must we leave the field? I value her peace. How can I assess the real toll school life is taking upon her as she learns how to live in an environment with different values than our family holds? When my practicing Luke 14:13 (When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…) or sharing the gospel with strangers makes another team member feel threatened, what should I do? The darkness of reproach threatens within, and an anti-proselytizing law threatens without. What about my personal “thriving”? When does that value go to the cross? Before or after giardia and discouragement and threatening militants? Must I find an “easier” field (the grass is always greener…) in order to find a bright place where I can thrive? Such questions can cause a lot of turmoil. We can retreat in unresolved doubts or take our stand in disappointment-laden hope without even realizing that we are becoming exhausted and that the shadows are deepening in our hearts.
How do we go on living in the light on this path of faith we have taken into an outer darkness without becoming compromised within our souls, our families, and our teams? We do believe God led us overseas to live in and show His light, but the darkness of the culture threatens, whether at a school or in an office in a corrupt society. Decisions have to be made. Life has to go on, or we have to leave. My heart is frail and threatened with the darkness of regret. Will I regret placing the child in school, or will I regret leaving? Do I evangelize in a way my team member considers “safer,” or do I continue in the style I delight in with Jesus? Are there only these options which I can see, or is there a third, or a compromise? Where is the path of peace?
I have found that the recurring tension drives me back to the Scriptures again and again to scrutinize my values and vocabulary and feelings and options in light of God’s Word.
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. (1 John 3:21-22)
We know we have His Spirit, and we direct our hearts into the love of Christ. We pray and fast, we study and seek counsel, we pursue truth and peace with all, and we make decisions and go forward with a trusting heart and a mind kept in His light.
That discernment of the path forward is done in faith, by us faulty people. The risk to others as well as to myself is enough to stop me in my tracks—in the darkness of fear of reproaches, regrets, and pain—except that God has caused me to hope in Him lighting my way. This cross-cultural worker walking along unknown paths by the lamp of the LORD has certainly been an unintentional instrument of trial and pain in the lives of others. Nevertheless, I recall that God knew all before creation. He knew all about our struggle with darkness and about the way He would weave together imperfect lives in a dark world. His salvation is gracious and comprehensive. It is worked out over lifetimes as we trust Him at His word and walk side by side within the body of Christ, striving to live at peace, confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another, that we may live healthy lives, as James teaches.
Recently I was walking beside a lame friend. The clay road was uneven and stony. She lost her balance and stumbled into me, whereupon I lost my balance. She apologized immediately, but I reassured her that I was fine, though I knew my ankle would smart for a couple minutes. That is perhaps how we follow Christ together—in our lameness and our brokenness, with our children and friends, spouses, and even strangers walking alongside. In our brokenness we lose balance, we knock against others, we hurt them without malice. We quickly ask forgiveness (if we are aware), and we hope that our friend will readily see that we were not intending hurt but simply lost our balance. Sadly, one faulty life knocking another can cause pain that lasts for years, like a dark fog that envelopes and swirls and confuses, before we cry out and God lightens our darkness with His awesome mercy and wisdom.
If we refuse to seek the God who lightens our darkness, however, we are compromised. Our energy is spent in that darkness, hiding fear, doubt, shame, and regret. It does not have to be that way. Moses reassures us that Christlife—the righteousness that is based on faith—is not hard. In Deuteronomy 30:14 he wrote: The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. We must speak God’s word about our life, about fear and forgiveness, about our families, and about work. We must speak with God, speak with our family, and speak with our faith community. We must speak of the struggles and the search and the light of God that shines into our darkness. That is, after all, the Christlife we really want to share with our friends who are stumbling in another darkness.
Question to consider: How do we go on living in the light on this path of faith we have taken into an outer darkness without becoming compromised within our souls, our families, and our teams?