I spent many summers at our local Christian summer camp. The camp was nestled in the woods of a small island off the coast of Vancouver. The camp didn’t boast anything flashy; it was far more run-down than rustic. Still, it was a place where I explored the deeper questions of faith.
One summer evening, we were scheduled to have our evening devotions at a remote clearing in the woods called Pride Rock. As I was finishing duties in the main lodge, the group left ahead of me. By the time started my journey through the woods, the sun had moved behind the forest ridge. Although the path through the forest was nearly impossible to see, I was confident I could find the appropriate path, which I did.
But this is where things went wrong. At one point during my journey the path zigged where I thought it zagged. I found myself tumbling down a hill and landing in a bed of thorn bushes. I didn’t hurt myself, beyond a few scrapes on my legs, but now I had a new problem; I was deep in the forest, unable to see, and unsure which way I should go. I tried to walk back up the hill but could not make any progress. Furthermore, each way I moved brought me deeper into the bushes; Every shift in balance brought a new array of thorns digging into my legs. It wasn’t too long before panic began to set in.
But then I saw it, the light of the main lodge. In my attempts to move this way and that, I had shifted my position enough so that I could see the light cutting through the forest. The light oriented me; it gave me a direction. I still could not see a defined trail, nor the lodge itself, but I could see the light shining, and that was enough.
The life of faith isn’t always straightforward and clear. There are times when life seems to zig when we wanted it to zag; where suddenly the path before us disappears, and we find ourselves feeling stranded and alone. It happens whenever we face the questions we never thought we would have to face, or deal with a heartache we never thought we would bear. John Bunyan describes such times as the slough of despond, the mire of the disheartened.
The light of God’s loving mercy shines upon us no matter how dark things appear. Because of this, there is hope. The prophet Isaiah says, “The people walking darkness, have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). This is a word encouragement to all people who feel lost or trapped in a land of dark shadows and dead-end pathways. The good news of our faith is that God’s presence shines through the zig zags of our lives and makes its way to us.
But here is the radical thing: The light of God doesn’t just shine upon us from afar. Don’t get me wrong, when you feel lost in a thorn-filled forest, you welcome that. But distant lights never transform us; they give direction not freedom, hope, but not salvation. It is one thing to have a light shine on us from some distant place; it’s quite another thing to have the light come and dwell in our lives. The light of God comes and pushes away the darkness from the inside out.
Where is the light of God’s loving presence shining upon you? Where do you spy even the faintest of glimmers? Even when the light appears shaded by obstacles that appear too big or dark to get around, the light still shines. Consider what it might mean for you to take a step in that direction. You don’t have to run, and truth be told, you may still get some scrapes along the way, but in stepping toward that light you are walking toward your own liberation. And with each obstacle past, the light that you follow grows brighter, and the darkness a little less prevailing.