Through Darkness to the Light

At my work, I sometimes host a StarLab program, at the start of which I make a speech on the etiquette expected from attendees while they huddle inside the dome. It’s a great big inflatable semi-circle of synthetic fabric, easily torn by rough-housing or a careless shoe. Also key: the dome must stay inflated through a constantly-running fan, and if the entrance tube is held open too long, the air rapidly escapes.

The littler children frequently freeze on first entering the tube. It’s pitch black for the first few feet, and that’s a long way for tiny legs to crawl without light. The problem here is, when you hold up the line, you hold the entrance open, which causes the dome to deflate. So I give the wee ones (and their parents) a pep talk before we head in:

“Now, it’s going to be a little dark when you get inside the tunnel, but I need you to keep going so others can come inside, too. As soon as you round the corner, you’ll see the light of the projector and be in the nice open space of the dome.”

After doing this spiel roughly four times in a row, the symbolism dawned on me. It probably helped that during this particular hosting of the StarLab, I was in the throes of medical trouble and about to start a somewhat worrying rehabilitation process. I thought about that dark tube and couldn’t fault the children for crying while they were led through it. I’d had my own share of fits when faced with personal darkness.

But God gives His own reassurance: “The dark part is brief. I need you to keep going, because in time you’ll see My light is up ahead.” My own corny interpretation, I’ll grant you – and maybe clichéd. But I will add that it’s never quite what we think when we round the corner and emerge on the other side.

In the StarLab dome, there’s only enough illumination to find your seat. Just two pinprick lightbulbs on either side of the projector. No blinding flash, no angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus in assurance that you’ve finally made it out all right. (That’d probably frighten the little ones even more, come to think.) All that greets you is a glimmer – not striking but steady. Enough to bring comfort after a frightening journey.

The children always forget the darkness as soon as the stars spread around the dome. How funny that it takes so little to reassure them. I suppose that’s the sort of appreciation time spent in pitch black will teach you. I’d like to have that sort of faith, too.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5

Breaking

Seedling

I’ve had a fight with anxiety/panic attacks the last couple of years. Full-blown, out-of-nowhere alarm seizes my body at any given moment, and it feels like my brain’s being squeezed between two lemons. I affectionately(?) refer to the sensation as “licking batteries”. Remember how that felt when you tried it as a kid? Imagine that sensation going on and on for sometimes hours at a time.

The attacks started because of a possible myriad of things, but at their core was a basic belief system: I believed in a God of apathy.

I was 28 and watching lives around me move forward, mark accomplishments, get blessed with new adventures. And there sat I, flat-lining through the days and wondering if maybe there was something the matter with me, being so left behind.

To cope with this feeling, I began to create embittered excuses for why I wasn’t given grace to move ahead. “God doesn’t care about me,” I said to myself. “And that’s fine. I don’t expect Him to. I already know I’m not worth all that much.” I nurtured these thoughts almost gleefully, because this quiet self-harm was the only thing I’d really felt in a long time. Plus, it was almost like justice, demonstrating to everyone that they better be thankful for their lives, because mine certainly sucked.

I didn’t expect this mentality to manifest the way it did one weeknight: throat constricting with the feeling I might throw up, certain that something in me had decided it was time to die. My doctor, a Christian woman of uncanny insight, took a look at me and didn’t even need to conduct any medical procedure. She saw that I was alone and pulled me into her arms. I cried.

She took my hands and said that I was like a seed, hardened and stubborn under the dirt. But now it was time for me to break, so that Life could sprout through.

Around that same time a friend dared to give me the realest love I needed, and told me to seek counseling before my outlook got worse. She doesn’t know this, but her admonishment was the first moment I began to think that maybe I wasn’t so abandoned after all. She had genuinely noticed the pain that I firmly denied.

It was only the start to a long path of healing, but this is what I learned:

God doesn’t always take it away. The discomfort, the sadness, the anxiety – at least not in this life. Even though I’ve improved by miles, there are still some days where I start “licking batteries” again.

God is always THERE, though.

It’s the most basic yet essential realization. Every time my body seized with the mental poison I’d poured into it, and I just had to lay on the floor in my apartment until the feeling passed – it didn’t take long for me to learn that when nothing whatsoever is in my control, God reveals Himself in an unquestionable manner. I couldn’t fall back on anything except Him.

I sometimes wonder if anxiety was the only opening I’d left for Him to reach me. My refusal to pray got trumped by sudden, desperate cries for peace. My refusal to believe in love got negated by a need to cling to Someone stronger than I. All my defenses had been violently broken.

Now the seed could sprout.

This marked the start of a life I never knew I could live. The rest of it – well, that’s another story for another month.