Praying in the Dark

The past few days have been a dark place for me. I don’t mean that something horrible has happened, or that my life has been upended. But things seem dim and indistinct. Some things I took for granted turn out to be less than sure. Events have been chaotic and tinged with evil and sadness.

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I was reading a novel the other day, set in the early days of World War II in London. Because of the threat of air raids from Germany, the people were required to “black out” their windows at night, and drive with no headlights. People who had driven or walked around the streets of London with confidence just weeks before were being injured or even killed because they could no longer trust in streetlights, headlights, or lights in windows to guide them safely home. At the same time, during the day, thousands of people, fearing that the Germans would use deadly gas, were carrying around gas masks (just in case!), and leaving them on buses or at pubs or train stations, because they were unused to the extra responsibility. Suddenly, the gas mask they were depending on was lost, and all the extra preparation turned out to be useless, anyway. It reminds me how often I would see people last year, getting ready to enter a store, only to return to their car for their required mask. The recent upsurge in COVID cases means that some public businesses and services are requiring masks again, while others do not. No one knows if they are prepared; no one seems confident that they are “safe”– even with masks, vaccines, furious hand-washing, and social distancing.

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Hard times and difficult situations can cause us to shift our focus and have to learn new routines–even new vocabulary! At certain times, life almost seems “normal.” At others, we seem to be tossed by every new wave that comes along. It can be easy to lose one’s way in the fog and darkness of chaos and changing times.

The Psalmist and King, David, had words of wisdom for times like these: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119: 105 KJV)

Even when things seem dark and it feels like I’ve lost my way, God is right beside me. If I have no other “light” to see by, God’s word will be enough to guide me on. When I pray– even in the dark–God sees me clearly, and knows the way ahead.

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And I needed to be reminded of that this week.

Behold!

Matthew 6:22-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

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O be careful little eyes what you see

O be careful little eyes what you see

There’s a Father up above

And He’s looking down in love

So, be careful little eyes what you see

whole song text here

 

This little light of mine–I’m gonna let it shine!

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Both the scripture text and the children’s song above are often used in the context of watching pornography or violent images, and their negative effects.  It is true that if we fill our sight with negative and sinful images, we will be impacted negatively.  We become desensitized to violence and evil; we become addicted to images that shock or excite us.

But I think there is more going on in this text, and I think it has a bearing on our prayer life.  What we choose to see also involves what we choose NOT to see. We talk a lot about what we shouldn’t be watching or seeing, but there are some things– even unpleasant things– that we MUST see if we are to be the light of the world.  Not only must we see such things, we must shine a light on them and cause others to see them.  Injustice, corruption, dishonesty– we must be careful to see them for what they are.

We live in a world of optical illusions, and it can be very difficult to see clearly.  But that is what we are called to do.  If our eyes are good/healthy, we will let in the light of truth, so that shadows and illusions will become stand out.  If our eyes are bad/unhealthy, the shadows and illusions will trick us.  We will see only what can be seen in a glance, and miss the bigger picture.

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John the Baptist had excellent “vision.”  As he was out in the hot sun glinting off the Jordan, he looked up to see hundreds of people waiting to be baptized.  But his eyes were searching the horizon, seeing all the others, but seeking one face.  And when he saw it, he drew everyone’s attention to it– “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29)  Our eyes, like those of John, should be looking with purpose and hope.

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Throughout the Bible, God looks at people with love and compassion.  Several times in the gospels, Jesus looks upon or takes note of people (some of whom are seeking him, and others who know nothing of him) and has compassion on them.  Our eyes, like those of our Father, should be looking in love.  Love sees things as they really are– it sees sin, pain, disease, betrayal, war, hatred, greed.  But love sees beyond to people who need salvation, healing, restoration, peace, compassion, and hope.

gray candle lantern
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I need to give careful consideration to what I allow myself to see– do I see all the negative, hateful, sinful things going on around me?  Do I see such things with a sense of purpose and with compassion?  Or do I ignore them and turn my gaze inward, shutting out the hurt and need all around me?  Do I see all the shadows and illusions and let my own light grow dim?  Or do I see the Light of the World, ready to shine (even through me), with hope and redemption?  Will I pray with my eyes closed and shuttered, or wide open?

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