One of my favorite memories of elementary school took place at the grand finale of a Christmas program.
The lights in the auditorium turned off as each student turned on a flashlight. (Mine came right from my dad’s tool drawer—one of those thick yellow handled ones, labeled with my name on a piece of masking tape.) Then, flashlights in hand, we sang “Let There Be Peace On Earth.”
Thinking about it makes me giggle. I’m not sure what 90 kids holding flashlights to their chins campfire-ghost-story-style had to do with peace on Earth, but it sure was fun.
Looking around today, I wish I could find some sort of magical “peace on Earth flashlight” to turn on and shine in the darkness.
The darkness seems awfully dark.
It threatens to consume the bits of light that are still shining in my life. There’s a reason I don’t ever, ever, ever watch scary, gory, or scandalous movies—the words and images stick with me, racing around my mind on repeat. Instead, I’m content in my PG world.
However, it seems irresponsible to just shut out the news. Sure, there’s something to be said for not getting wrapped up in all the sordid details, but that’s not an excuse to be completely ignorant about current events or blind to the trials of others.
As I read about political scandals, abuse, corruption, and illicit drug epidemics—the anxiety mounts. My heart breaks when I hear of another suicide of a child (a child!). A school shooting.
My house is in a quiet little town, surrounded by corn fields. I can’t help but think of Mollie Tibbetts every time I drive anywhere. Abduction. Murder.
Many people dear to me are struggling with big issues— infidelity, depression, financial difficulties, children with special needs—none of which can I do anything about except remember them in prayer.
And I do. Perhaps that’s enough. But it doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel like enough when babies are still born addicted to opioids and people around the world become victims of human trafficking.
With my personality, I’m not in danger of getting caught in the “worldliness” of a designer bag or fancy car. The unhealthy attachment to the world I face is getting wrapped up in all the pain and brokenness. I am tempted to walk around cultivating ulcers and wringing my hands, lamenting all the pain and suffering in the world.
Pain and suffering are not new human inventions, though. The darkness has been around for all of humanity. That isn’t a particularly comforting thought in and of itself, but remembering that these aren’t “the worst times the world has ever seen!!!” is reassuring to me.
The Bible offers some insight with verses admonishing to be filled with peace.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. John 14: 27
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Those words are from the Bible. So. They are good. They are true. But reading them doesn’t necessarily help me feel better. Sometimes such words bring comfort, but sometimes they do not.
I appreciate all the orders to be at peace, but how do I actually obey? How can I balance the desire to be at peace with the desire to do something and be the hands and feet of Jesus?
After all, the Bible isn’t just some sort of paper chillax tool, like a margarita in book form. It’s a call to radical love. It’s the story about how God works through all the dumb stuff humanity dishes out. God is working through our current dumb stuff, even if we can’t see it, but that’s not an excuse to just sit around quoting scripture. We need to act.
Here’s my makeshift magical flashlight to wield against the encroaching darkness:
1. Pray for everyone involved.
2. Remind myself that I can’t fix everything.
3. Pray for wisdom about if there is any action to take.
4. Take action based on #3. (Maybe that’s writing a letter to a bishop or senator, maybe it’s making a casserole to bring to a family who is struggling, maybe it’s donating to a charitable organization working to solve a specific problem.)
5. Pray for peace about the situation.
Whatever is on my heart may be the Holy Spirit calling me to prayer and action, or it may be an attempt to keep my mind on some insurmountable crisis and off my vocation as wife and mother. Either way, going through this list means I can give myself permission to let the issue go. It may not fix things completely, but it can help keep my anxiety about a specific issue in check.
I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world. John 16:33
Ultimately the darkness isn’t an excuse to get bogged down in the sadness. We already know how this book is going to end. The darkness is an invitation to find peace by shining today.
Alicia writes at Sweeping Up Joy about finding beauty and humor in life right now– even when it’s hidden behind piles of laundry and chewed up books.