It’s been a long time.
At least, it seems like it has been.
I slowly started dropping off the map a few years ago, and I’ve been trying to figure it out.
At first, I thought I was just busy or out of inspiration.
Then I started realizing that instead of creating I was consuming. Almost no output, almost exclusively input.
Instead of posting, I was scrolling.
Instead of sharing, I was hiding.
And it wasn’t just me hiding from the world or from the things that were happening. I was hiding from my own mind.
Things have not been good lately.
I could list everything off here, but suffice it to say that the last couple of years have been exceptionally difficult. I could go into detail about the strain on my relationship, or the difficulty of being a ministry leader, or juggling jobs, or dry spells in writing, or the novel coronavirus pandemic, or becoming the unintentional conduit of the virus that would steal my grandmother’s life… but honestly, that much is enough. You can imagine. The specifics are not very relevant.
What is relevant is the reality of it. And it’s really funny because people will show themselves as friend or foe by how much they acknowledge reality for what it is, whether they choose to stand with you in the reality of your darkness.
(And before you tell me to go cry you a river, trust me when I say that I know that many people have it worse than me, and that I’m also a sensitive individual. But that is all still a lot for anyone to handle.)
It’s a strange world we live in. Not fully good, not fully bad. Not totally dead, yet not totally alive. It’s why so much of life, so many decisions, seem like they’re blurry and grey. It’s not the non-existence of truth but the obscurity of living in a reality where good and evil both exist, together and in conflict.
It doesn’t take long, especially in the more prosperous parts of the world, to see that good leads to good. Take care of your crops, and they will grow. Spend time studying, and earn your degree. Work hard, get your promotion.
It also doesn’t take long to see that bullies exist, that people take advantage of each other, ignore each other’s struggles, steal each others’ opportunities… you get the picture.
It’s not one-to-one anymore. The world isn’t what it was meant to be. People who do good and evil don’t always get the justice they each deserve for what they do, and everyone does a little bit of both.
Many people will tell you that if you only do the right thing, say the right words, or think the right thoughts, you will get the right result; but such people are blind to the fact that in a broken world, what should work doesn’t necessarily work — not even righteousness.
You can raise your kids right, but they might still wind up making bad decisions.
You can be the kindest person, but others may still treat you like trash.
You can love your wife the best you can, but she might still cheat on you.
You can try your best to do what is right, but you may still succumb to the worst of temptations.
You can follow all the safety protocols in place to protect the vulnerable in a pandemic, but you can still receive and pass a virus to someone you love and watch them die.
You can spend your time wondering if there was anything to do to change things, but you might never get an answer.
Things are not as they should be.
More and more, I hear people telling each other to look on the bright side, to ignore pain, to be less critical of each other’s failures, and to stop talking about all the garbage in the world.
To be honest, I should be surprised by that, and I can feel the void where the surprise should be, yet it is not there.
The fact is simple. Things are not okay. The world is not okay. “All creation groans […] waiting eagerly” for something much better than the pain (Romans 8:22). If you know this passage of scripture, you might also know that Paul turns around and offers the hope that ultimately “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose,” even if that means that we may only experience that good in the resurrection to come for those who are in Christ (v. 28).
But in order to get the hope, you have to accept the groaning (vv. 24-25). If there is no groaning, there is no need for hope because the world is perfect. If there is no darkness, there is no need for light because the light is already there. But it’s not. Too often, the light is completely absent.
I get it. It’s hard to take in so much pain, to navigate when disoriented, and even to hear people complain constantly. You might even be right to want it all to stop, to be deaf and blind for one moment of peace, but that peace is false if it is at the expense of your ability to engage with others and live in reality. It is one thing to just stew in all the negativity. It is another thing entirely to pretend it isn’t there.
You can’t ignore the problems and expect them to go away. Not for yourself, and not for others. You may not be able or even responsible to change everything for yourself or anyone else, but if you have been granted the opportunity to either help someone or get out of the way, that level of responsibility does indeed fall to you. Ignoring the darkness shirks that responsibility (James 4:17).
Even worse, whitewashing your life, putting on the façade that you’re not broken when you really are, won’t change anything about the darkness. You will only be hiding inside yourself and making your world even darker. That kind of mentality is a breeding ground for hypocrisy for those who want to appear perfect in the world, and constant anxiety for those who fear the backlash of their failure to be perfect. In either case, our fear of not being perfect leads us to deny that very same reality. We are not perfect, and we never will be, not until all things are made new. That is the hope that we eagerly await (vv. 24-25). Why pretend it is here now when it is so clearly not?
It’s so clear to see even in our glances at our phones and computer screens. Many of us are addicted to social media, yet we find ourselves trapped in constant comparison to the lives of those who supposedly have it better. Then, we push back against comparison by reminding each other that social media is little more than a highlight reel, effectively silencing the voices of pain crying out for something better. We all do it. We all at one point or another curate our lives to please the eyes of onlookers. Social media is just one example of a habit we’ve had for ages. But it is not our job to cater our lives to the weak stomachs of those too privileged to be vulnerable to pain.
But what if we changed all of that?
What if treating social media as a highlight reel is actually contributing to the problem?
What if our addiction to positivity is causing us to turn our backs to those deep in darkness?
What if we actually invited people to bare their darkness instead of forcing them into hiding?
What if accepting and confessing the darkness is the only way that hope has a chance to get in?
What if, in our well-intentioned desire to bring hope to others, we were actually snuffing it out?
What if all we asked of people was to acknowledge reality for what it is?
What if, when people brought their darkness to our highlight reels, we met them with empathy and love and encouragement to keep going with us, rather than trying to fix what cannot be fixed and cure what cannot be cured?
What if it is our own failure to accept the reality that ultimate hope is only found when all things are made new that keeps us from giving hope to the hopeless and bringing light into the darkness?
What if we are just as guilty of staking our hope on temporary circumstances and a deteriorating world as those we shun for their darkness?
And it’s crazy because when we turn a blind eye to those in darkness, we plunge ourselves into our own darkness, and we deepen theirs because the darkness of our blindness will fall on them, too. Where is the hope in that?
So, bring darkness to your highlight reel. Don’t let anyone tell you not to. If they do, they don’t have any more hope than you do. Rip off the veil. Stop hiding. Things may get better now, or they may only get better in eternity, but living in that reality can give you the strength to step forward. Then, and only then, there can be hope.