Shift-work has its perks. I can focus on family meals before I work, and commute against the regular flow of traffic. The highlight of shift-work this time of the year, though, is driving home in the morning. Once I turn off the highway and onto our neighborhood’s side streets, the sun kisses the hill above our valley. On just the right morning, the fog hovers close to the ground. That very morning happened last week. I finished my shifts for the week, and this magical light met me as I turned into our neighborhood. I wiped my weary-worn eyes, grabbed my camera (and my daughter), and ran across the street to chase that light.
The lighting was heavenly. I am not a professional photographer. Not by a very long stretch. Yet, I have learned the beauty of natural light. The mixture of soft, early-morning light with fog’s light-dissipation is photo-making magic. And I didn’t want to miss it. So much so that I put off sleeping after a twelve-hour shift to catch it. I roped my daughter into being my subject. I risked the awkward conversation with my neighbor if they questioned what I was doing out there taking pictures in my scrubs, hiking boots, and sherpa sweater. If they got a chuckle watching me, you’re welcome!
Through the years of working as a nurse in an ICU, I’ve also learned how important it is to manage your stress. I've learned every interaction with stress has an impact even if the stress isn't yours. In one shift, I counseled a father of a newly admitted baby, I talked with a new nurse wrestling with taking patients on her own, I listened to stories of infant loss, then listened to them grappling with the emotional-aftermath of caring for the bereaved. These alone are heavy-laden topics, and, unfortunately, that’s just another day in the NICU for many of us.
So chasing the light is cathartic. Chasing the light is necessary. Chasing the light means the darkness doesn’t have such a pull on me anymore.
Last year in therapy, my counselor confronted my mishandling of stress. She addressed my need to give weight to the things that feel ordinary to me, but shouldn’t be.
Babies shouldn’t leave their parents’ arms.
Grandparents shouldn’t get cancer.
Husbands shouldn’t be addicted to pornography.
Children shouldn’t be plagued with eating disorders.
Pastors shouldn’t be suicidal.
Mothers shouldn’t be permanently disabled from strokes.
Families shouldn’t be drowning in debt.
And yet, every day you encounter a unique and burdensome stress that shouldn’t be. Who do we turn to for comfort among the crashing waves of ache? What do we do with the weights we feel? When do we find freedom from this pain? Where do we turn in the midst of our suffering?
I hit my rock-bottom during one of the most difficult years in church planting. After a series of disappointments, I was angry—with myself and with God. I was impatient with my growth. Why was I making the same mistakes over and over again? I was angry with God for asking what felt like so much from us. By the end of that summer, I was ready give up entirely—on church planting, on ministry, on God.
But God. I heard a whisper beckoning me to try instead. It called me to start small and slow, but to just start. I decided to read one Psalm a day, and write down characteristics of God I saw in it. Here is just a small part of what I began to see:
God is the One who provides refuge to the oppressed. God is my shield, sustainer, and the lifter of my head.
God doesn’t delight in wickedness.
God hears my plea and accepts my prayer.
God tests the minds and hearts of mankind.
God is a righteous judge.
God set the moons and stars in place.
God is mindful of me.
God doesn’t forget the cry of the afflicted.
God gives light to our path and lightens the darkness.
God restores my soul.
God is the King of Glory.
God is strong and mighty.
God’s mercy and steadfast love are from old.
God pardons my guilt.
God knows what distresses my soul.
God gives me sure footing.
God will instruct me and teach me the way I should go.
God’s steadfast love surrounds those who trust in Him.
God loves righteousness and justice.
God’s steadfast love fills the whole earth.
God redeems the life of His servants.
God lends generously and His children become a blessing.
This simple practice of seeing God in one Psalm a day became a mighty anthem of truth about the character of God. This anthem was enough to topple the misconceptions I was believing in the midst of my darkness. This was chasing after light. Psalm 1 puts it this way:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
Walk, stand, and sit are progressive words. The Psalmist is pointing out that when we linger among wickedness (or darkness), we find that it shapes us. First, we walk alongside the darkness. Next, we find ourselves standing in its midst. Finally, we sit down and make ourselves comfortable. We actually identify ourselves by that darkness now.
You may find that a bit extreme, but think with me a minute. Let’s say you spend the kids' pick-up line surfing social media. You come across a political diatribe and peruse the comments. How does that affect your opinion of the two arguing? Do you pump your fist for the one with which you agree, all while viewing the opponent with which you disagree with disdain? How does your heart feel as your kids climb into your minivan? Light and cheerful or heavy and brooding? If your kids are arguing, how likely is it that you will respond to their argument with far less grace? Has darkness sown seeds of discord in you while you walked along its path?
Our minds are a powerful tool. Where we choose to set our minds has significant effects on our behavior—positively and negatively. We are giving our precious moments away to things undeserving of our time. Not only do the seeds of darkness—discord, jealousy, envy, hatred, etc.—steal our time, but they shape us in their image.
When we linger along halls of spite, we find ourselves spiteful.
When we linger along halls of jealousy, we find ourselves jealous.
When we linger along halls of comparison, we find ourselves lacking.
When we linger along halls of anger, we find ourselves angry.
In contrast, when we delight ourselves with God and His word. We are shaped by that light instead:
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:3)
I don’t know about you, but I long to be described as steadfast, unwavering, and fruitful. I want my life to provide protection and provision. I want to withstand the storms. During my darkest season, what I needed more than self-care or a self-help strategy was chasing the light. I needed to set my mind on Him and His word. God’s greatest gift to me during that time was a consistent meeting place with Him, one Psalm at a time. Each Psalm built on the next, and before I knew it, I had thirty-eight pages filled with the character of God.
I came across this prayer in The Valley of Vision. In it is a line, “I am blind while light shines around me: take the scales from my eyes.” Sometimes, we just need to ask to see. If we’re so caught in the darkness that we don’t know up from down anymore, maybe it’s time to ask the Lord to help us see.
If you’re in the midst of a great difficulty, let me encourage you to take that next step. It doesn’t have to be a big one. Just take a step toward that light. Find a place in God’s word in which you can sit. Fill your mind with things that shape you into that which is beautiful. Fix your eyes on Jesus and get busy chasing the light.
O MY SAVIOUR,
I am so slow to learn,
so prone to forget,
so weak to climb;
I am in the foothills when I should be on the heights;
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayerless days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities.
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.
Make it my chiefest joy to study Thee,
meditate on Thee,
gaze on Thee,
sit like Mary at Thy feet,
lean like John on Thy breast,
appeal like Peter to Thy love,
count like Paul all things dung.
Give me increase and progress in grace
so that there may be more decision in my character,
more vigor in my purposes,
more elevation in my life,
more fervor in my devotion,
more constancy in my zeal.
As I have a position in the world,
keep me from making the world my position;
May I never seek in the creature
what can be found only in the Creator;
Let not faith cease from seeking thee until it vanishes into sight.
Ride forth in me, Thou King of kings and Lord of lords,
that I may live vicariously, and in victory attain my end.
-Valley of Vision, A Disciple’s Renewal