Occasionally I find myself walking down the path of life in the direction of my dreams. (In those moments when I’m not sidetracked by chocolate covered almonds.) And as I’m walking along, pursuing my grand designs, there looms an obstacle in my path. Possibly the size of a giant Sequoyah. But I’m stubborn and I continue walking along my path without deterring to the left or the right.
Before long—smack—I have face planted myself into the giant trunk of this ridiculous tree that is blocking my path. As I observe my surroundings from this perspective, the world is very dark. It is also scratchy and abrasive. And sometimes there are ants crawling up my nose.
“Oh, Lord!! Why is this my lot in life? Why is the world so harsh and vicious and cruel? Why has darkness overwhelmed my soul?” I mutter into the crevices of the tree bark.
To which the reply comes. “Why don’t you take a couple steps back and look around?”
So, I pull my face out of the darkness, step back a bit and look around. And what do I see? Sunlight coming through the branches meeting overhead, small wild flowers grinning at me along the path, the sound of birds communicating and the crash of squirrels flying overhead. Is my problem still there? Yep, still big, still looming, still obnoxiously in my way. But it’s not the only thing. Beauty always exists, even around the most brutal of situations.
A dear mentor of mine is dying of cancer right now. Every time I log onto Facebook, one of his friends or family members has posted something about how he has impacted their life and what it has been like to be by his side for these last few days. John is barely able to communicate, but a recent post reported that when someone was reading him a card that had been sent sharing some good news about something he had been concerned about, he reached out his hand, grabbed my friend’s and said with light in his eyes, “Celebrate!”
In the midst of his darkest hours, when speech is failing, the word he finds the energy for is “Celebrate!”
But what if that’s what we did in the midst of our darkest hours? Celebrated! Celebrated what is always around us, what exists along the path even when it is blocked by the most giant of obstacles. Celebrated that we see in color, that roses smell so darn good, that whipped cream squeezed straight into your mouth is like heaven on earth. Delighted in the smell of the shampoo on our baby’s hair, the feel of a pencil making strokes on the paper, the fresh taste of an avocado plucked off your tree.
Darkness is real, and one of the things in life I signed up for was to help people hold those dark moments. Compassion means to “suffer with” someone, and I am willing to do it. But how often do I want to beg those who are suffering, “Take two steps back in the forest and look around!” And I’m begging them not out of a sense of trying to downplay the ferociousness of life’s very real torments, I just have research on my side that shows that gratitude makes you better. When you look at the little wild flowers that are beside your giant problem, when you can taste the sweet along with the bitter, when you can celebrate in the midst of dying, that’s when you find that you are living. Really, truly, completely living.
Can I do it every time I’m stuck face first in tree bark. No. Sometimes I just sit there and let the ants crawl on me. But, fortunately I have a God who doesn’t leave me there alone, and when I am struck by the light of his glory, when I feel the warmth of his embrace shining on me–even choosing to shine on me when I am pressed firmly into glum pity–his love calls me to step back and look up. And one of my favorite things to look up and see in a forest is the way the branches meet, and the light falls in pockets of warmth, edged with glittering dust. I am mesmerized by the leaves shifting in a kaleidoscope of color and shape, texture and sound.
And as I’m staring face up into the glory, the memory of this promise overwhelms me:
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never [ever, ever] extinguish it.”
And that I will celebrate until my last breath.
******To find a little more light in the darkness, check out Meg’s post at www.megontap.blogspot.com!!******