by Marie McKowen
In a way I haven’t fully appreciated or understood, manufactured artificial light numbs the mystery of the dark, giving me a false sense of myself in relation to the world. The way I move through my world on a daily basis is mostly efficient. And when it isn’t, I have a little niggling in the back of my mind that I needlessly wasted time today. I know how to hustle, produce, and ship. But lately, I’ve had to honestly confront a real possibility: what if the “hustle, produce, and ship” are my artificial lights?
Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday
My story begins with this quote. I couldn’t have written it any better. My artificial lights that once gave me a false sense of myself in relation to the world slowly started to burn out several years ago. The mystery of the dark took me by surprise at first, without the familiarity of my busyness that I had always used to navigate the world around me. It was during one of the darkest, coldest and longest Minnesota winters ever and it mirrored the darkest, most difficult time in my life.
I used to live my life in a blur. I stayed busy, I overloaded, I said yes. Saying yes made me feel good and gave life meaning. The response and attention I got was so positive, it was addicting. Especially when it came to church, words like calling and purpose became a huge canopy over my head and when I closed my eyes I saw faceless and familiar church people staring at me waiting to see what I would do. My mind would run ahead of me, what did these people want from me, the good little pastor’s daughter, all grown up. I ought to know better, I should do the right thing, whatever it was. Without fully realizing it, I stubbornly and idealistically kept striving toward perfect selflessness. But it was never enough. Never.
Perfection had it’s tight grip on me and even in my exhaustion I still couldn’t say no. Until finally, what felt like cutting off my own arm, I stepped down from worship ministry that had given my life purpose and identity. I knew it was something I had to do, for so many reasons. But even then, giving it up felt like giving up on God, which felt like giving up on life. Grief fell over me like a dark veil of regret and I began to question everything, even questioning my very existence. A stream of doubt and obscenities about church, God, people, and myself suddenly poured out of my mouth like a raging river, shocking those close to me. What I had shoved down so deeply, in the name of doing what I thought was the right thing, could simply not be shoved down any longer. The line had been crossed. I couldn’t just do something to make it all better anymore. There was nothing left. My distractions; gone. My artificial lights; gone.
What I remember most was the silence. Painful silence. The kind of “leave me alone” silence that I craved, yet hurt at the same time. And the cold. And the dark.
And then I found this:
Deep to deep incessant calling,
Tossed by furious tempests’ roll,
Endless waves and billows falling,
Overwhelm my fainting soul.
Yet I see a Power presiding
Mid the tumult of the storm,
Ever ruling, ever guiding,
Love’s intentions to perform.
Yes, mid sorrows most distressing,
Faith contemplates Thy design,
Humbly bowing, and confessing
All the waves and billows THINE.
Tears filled my eyes as I read the hymn by Henry March and I searched for the scripture that inspired it. Psalm 42:7 – “Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have washed over me.”
Wait. I think I love it, but is it saying storms that overwhelm my fainting soul belong to God? I don’t know if I agree with that, so why do I get goosebumps and a lump in my throat when I read it? Why do I love it so much? It seemed like one of those grand mysteries that are so profound, any attempt to understand would be futile. If I could fully understand God with my human mind, it is not God at all, but just my idea of God. It went beyond my mind, through my soul and into my spirit. Unexplainable, only felt. So there I sat, in the depths, not wanting to flick on the lights with busyness like I had done so many other times. Feeling strangely calm and comfortable in the dark. No answers. No busyness. No shoulds. No perfection. Just me.
After many days of allowing myself to be still and embrace what I was feeling, I had a vision.
It wasn’t a “Jesus is the light!” vision that people shout through fake, white teeth on T.V. No, it was dusty and flickering.
Jesus himself walked up to me, wrapped His arm around me, and pulled me in. I sank into His shoulder. He rested His chin on the top of my head and we stayed like that for a long time. Just us. Quiet. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to come out of it just yet. I had so many questions, so much I wanted to say. But I stayed quiet and still, so very difficult for me to do. Then, in what I can only describe as the most brotherly, grandpa-dad voice, I heard Him say, “I think you made it all too big.”
The moment He spoke, everything inside of me shifted. Other people might have said it to me a thousand times, but this was different. I want to describe it with words, but I know I can’t. Colors, maybe. A painting or music, maybe. The sound of warmth that makes things clear. A place where God holds me and nothing can take it away. So if the waves and billows were mine, or if the waves and billows were Thine, or if I was pulled up out of the depths, or pulled farther into them, all I know is what I thought was the darkest, hardest time in my life, turned into the best thing that ever happened to me. And I would not trade it for anything.