Light in darkness

February, March 2017

‘Break my heart for what breaks Yours.’

Hillsong United

I remember thinking that if you took a cross-section of the ship every night, there’s a good chance you’d find people in their cabins crying.

People can sometimes think that they’re going to a country far away to volunteer for a good cause; their troubles will be left far behind!

They aren’t.

The ship is wonderful, but as with everything, it can have its challenges. You come to the ship, and there are hundreds of other strangers in the same space, with their own baggage (pun intended). A few that I’ve heard from others, or experienced myself: although surrounded by people, you can still be very lonely, which somehow makes you feel lonelier. Your family and friends are far away, you have limited personal space, you see a load of medical conditions that don’t exist back home and hear the associated stories … and your issues are still here.

For the past few years, one of the motivations that has driven some of my decisions is the desire to understand humans and our condition better. I want this because I want to understand, relate to, and love people better, and I want to know how I can help (in the way that I can; we were all made differently and I want to be faithful with my portion). I want to care more. Lord Jesus, break my heart for what breaks Yours. 

Recently, I heard some moving talks by Dave Wiggins, who suffers from chronic fatigue. I liked his phrasing, ‘To walk towards suffering.’

When I was on the ship, I thought of it in terms of darkness. One week, my friend Kyle decided that as a creative endeavour, we should draw what we struggling with creatively and try and interpret each other’s’ pictures. I drew a ship with darkness in it. There may have been darkness around it too, I can’t remember. In the centre was a black hole; I tore a literal hole in the page. I may have drawn something about light coming down from the top of the page, but I can’t remember if and how I did it.

The ship’s darkness represented the crew’s suffering. The black hole was me. I remember thinking, There’s all this darkness, and we try to love, but how can I truly well with my own darkness … God, are You the answer? Can you overcome this? (I can’t exactly remember what questions I was asking God, but it was something along those lines and included the word ‘overcome.’ I think the light may have been drawn in a questioning way?)

A few days later, I was praying with people, and chose to pray about darkness and light. I had a conversation with someone on Sunday and it included darkness and light. Sometime that week Kyle had shared this verse, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ It really got me – it was a culmination of some thoughts I’d been having, and was tied into what the theme of my week seemed to be: darkness and light.

Then, that Sunday …
Out of ALLL the Sundays in the entire field service …
(I’ll let my diary speak): ‘THE WHOLE CHURCH SERVICE ON SUNDAY NIGHT WAS ABOUT ‘GOD IS LIGHT’’ (!!!!)

One of our palliative care team, who takes care of people who suffer with no cure, shared about darkness.

And then the service shared this Bible verse:

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

My heart was exploding with excitement. The darkness has not overcome it!!!!!!!
In my diary: ‘HUUUGE FOR ME – LIGHT OVERCOMES DARK’

Then, on Monday night, I was reading my Bible and these were the verses I read:

‘The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.’

-Isaiah 9:2

I exploded even more.

It gets better. That Tuesday, I had been invited to a little tea gathering, but I couldn’t go because it was during work. I decided to thank the host in person for the invite, so I went along to her cabin, and …

Out of ALLL the cabins in the ship …
And out of ALLL the weeks in the year I could possibly have been invited to their cabin …
This greeted me on their cabin door,

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

It’s a wonder I’m alive today with all the exploding my heart did.

Excerpt from an e-mail I sent, ‘And then last night (same night as the door sign) I decided to read my bible, and used the reading plan – the verse was, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
So either this is a string of awesome coincidences, or God exists and is answering one of the prayers of my heart.
I WISH LIGHT ON YOU ALL =D’

The question then is,

How is God light in darkness?

What does this actually look like in real life?

I think there are a number of answers to this, most of which I do not know, but I want to focus on one of them.

Dave says it well. Here is an edited excerpt from a talk he presented called, ‘Broken Bodies.’ (the whole talk is moving.)

(Many people suffer from chronic health issues) ‘… The question that I really want to explore is, ‘How is God inviting us to act … in the midst of that fact and reality?’

… Jesus says to his followers to be compassion because God is compassionate …

Compassion is actually a form of love that arises when you are confronted with those who suffer or those who are vulnerable. So it comes out of that space, when you see suffering, when you see vulnerability, it’s a sense of love, of wanting to do something. Another definition of compassion is ‘to suffer with’ …

Jesus says that God is compassionate, that God sees suffering, and that God’s response is love and a desire to do something.

Jesus says that God suffers with us. That God suffers with us.
I think Jesus’s message by what he does is saying God suffers with us.
So Jesus says God is compassionate. And he urges and invites us into that life of God, to be compassionate.

So Jesus deals with chronic illness in a way that he walks towards chronic illness, he doesn’t walk away from that …

(John 9) ‘As Jesus was walking along, he saw a blind man.’  Two things are happening right away.

First of all, Jesus is walking in places that blind people are.

The second thing is that he sees the blind man. He notices the blind man. That might not be revolutionary and radical, but let me put it in context … the idea that was floating around in Jesus’s time is that these people are chronically ill because of their sin … the fact that they had a chronic illness meant that God was not with them …

Jesus walks into that context and says, ‘Be compassionate.’ See suffering, see vulnerability, walk in those places, and touch those people …

Here’s where Jesus is in all these stories … So the sign of the kingdom isn’t just that, ‘I have miraculous power,’ but it’s Jesus coming saying, ‘God is with you’

The sign of God’s kingdom is that you don’t belong on the margins, and being pushed out, and in those places. You belong to being a part of all of us and God is with you…

Jesus says to be compassionate, but how do we be compassionate towards those who are suffering?

It’s tough to walk towards people who are suffering … and even if we have a desire to do something and help it’s kinda like, well what do we do?

… The challenge for people how to support people, is to be with them, in those spaces, to be present in those space, because God is there, and we need you there, because sometimes you don’t believe that God is with you in those spaces, but when someone else is with you, and they’re saying I’m with you, they’re also saying God’s with you as well. 

We need you to be with us in all of these spaces.’

God is with us. And He wants us to walk towards, not away from, people in those spaces (I would add prayerfully, and wisely. We were not meant to walk towards all people in all spaces – we are finite beings with finite resources, and need to take care of ourselves/have boundaries too – how can we love others well if we don’t take care of ourselves? Furthermore, we’re each so different – being loving will look different for different people. And things change – loving may look different in different seasons of life, and the people we love may be different. ‘There is a time for everything.’ Wisdom in how we go about all this is KEY. Furthermore, loving is a commitment – an action – often we may not feel like it; it’s a choice. It’s a journey; a lifelong learning process that the Holy Spirit helps us with – we will fail, many times – no one was born with (nor will ever have) the ability to love perfectly. Growth takes time, and that’s okay). Responding in compassion; us with each other. ‘Mourn with those who mourn.’

I once heard evangelist Mike Pilavachi say something along the lines of healing often comes through community. This requires vulnerability (in the asking for help, baring of weaknesses, etc.), unconditional love, courage, sacrifice. Laying of ourselves for each other; in some ways parts of us (whether it be time, comfort, emotions etc.) dying for another. Just like Jesus did.

We need each other. The patients’ (that I asked) favourite part of the ship was that they were loved so well. Loneliness and social isolation are some of the most painful things facing not just the sick, but also the healthy. We were made for relationship. Can you imagine a perfect world, where everyone loves each other? (I don’t believe this is possible until Jesus’s next coming, but just imagine how beautiful that would be. Think of the beauty we can bring in our own little worlds by trying to be loving simply where we are*).

On the ship, the other thing that struck my heart in that Sunday service was chaplain Andrea’s talk. Using candles as a metaphor representing each of us, she said that if our candle is snuffed out at the moment, we should go stand by someone who’s not – light is contagious. Reach out. If we see someone whose candle is snuffed out, we should go and be with them. We are here to help give light to each other. The light of love. Love is light. My heart exploded again; one of my favourite quotes of all time is,

‘All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the flame of a single candle.’

– St Francis of Assisi.

I would like to take this opportunity to give a heartfelt shout-out to the chaplaincy team. (They even give free counselling sessions!) You are part of the glue that keeps our ship’s soul together. Thank you for your heart for us, for being selfless, loving, for pouring of yourselves for our family, and for doing all of this without being paid by the ship. Many, including myself, have been blessed by your unconditional love.

*‘I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.’ – C. S. Lewis.

I feel like such a hypocrite – let me be the first to admit I suck at loving.

I can only try, leaning in Christ within me’s power.

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