I have a friend whose suffering seems unending. Just death upon darkness upon pain. It’s too much for me to comprehend or understand; I can only imagine how much harder it is to endure.
She’s also the kind of person who spends time caring for other people’s suffering. Maybe one of the gifts of suffering is a cultivation of empathy. Maybe suffering brings us into a greater awareness of the universality of pain and death, the prevalence of an aching heart.
I’ve often wondered why I can’t find my way out of a forest and into a bright, blank, high-grass, sun-bright field. Why must I be a woman walking in the woods? And when I see people up ahead—people whose suffering has them in the absolute darkest depths of the forest—why is the only thing I feel, the only thing I think. Why isn’t there a floodlight of relief?
But the thing is, I like the forest. The longer you walk in the woods, the more you see. Shadows shift from black blankness to brown nuances. What once seemed totally dark suddenly is speckled with light—light that dances and moves and shifts with the wind, the clouds, the trees.
In many ways the forest has some advantages, some gifts of its very own. The path is often softer, a compilation of pine needles and decomposing leaves, few rocks. There’s a cushion to the floor of the forest. There’s a shelter in the shadows. Wind dies down. Sunburn isn’t a concern. We gaze upon what light we can find. It’s fractured and split open. We can literally see strands of light. Sometimes, in direct light, we don’t actually see anything. We’re blinded by it. It’s too much. Sometimes less is more. This is an upside-down Kingdom.
Maybe what’s needed is a flashlight not a floodlight.
Maybe when we enter into suffering, walk through the threshold into the dark forest, we realize that light lives there, too. And we meet the people there, people no one sees from the field.
Maybe people don’t even need a flashlight to guide them. Maybe they need time, time to adjust to the dark—when our eyes adjust, we also find light, even there in the dark. Our Light goes before us and behind us and around us and above us. He’s already there, even in the forest.
Out in the fields, we can’t tell. Light’s everywhere. It’s too much. Our lids close, transferring the overwhelming light into colorful bokeh. If our eyes must open, we block some of it, using our shades to shield the sun. It’s too much to gaze upon.
In the forest, though, our lids flutter open. Light spills into the dark in small fragments, so we can really see it.
Maybe wanting eyes to see is akin to walking into the forest.
There’s a silence there, too. A steadiness that opens everything up. Way behind and up ahead are not the priority; one can’t begin to know what they are. The now is there. The forest ground is grounding.
Maybe we’re a little like lightning bugs; we experience the Light and He sends us out. We don’t all go to the same kind of forest, of course, but when we enter the dark, we find the Light in us. Christ in me. Christ in you. Not just around us, but also, mysteriously, in us.
Maybe we don’t need to tell people in the dark to run through the forest to the light, to the open field that must eventually be. (Must it?) Maybe we need to affirm each other, reminding one another that the time we spent near the Light is enough. It is enough to keep us light through the dark. No matter how long ago the field existed on your journey, the Light is enough to carry you in the dark.
May God grant us all the eyes to see the fractured light along the way, and may those speckles be enough to sustain us for the journey.
In the words of my dear friend, “onward.”
Psalm 139: 12 NIV “Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”