a dark road in jungle

When the Way Ahead Seems Dark

Written by Weng Shu-wen, Singapore

I found myself inwardly nodding in recognition when our pastor described how some people might be walking through a dark cave with no idea where the exit was. At that time, I felt like my season at my job was ending, and not having received any clear answers from God about my future direction, I felt like I was indeed walking in the “darkness” he described.

This is not the darkness of sin and evil, but of not knowing what’s ahead—the seeming silence of God, and perhaps the darkness of the emotions. It is a darkness I have experienced through times of extended uncertainty, periods of burnout and feeling depressed, and inexplicable spiritual dryness.

Through my years of walking in the gloom in its different forms, God has encouraged me with three images, which I hope will be helpful for those on a similar journey.

 

He’s the guide lights in our murky pool

During an especially desperate period of seeking, God gave me an object lesson—by using a pool’s strip-lights!

On a night swim at a friend’s place a few years ago, I realised that my old and scratched goggles had lost their anti-fog coating, which gave me a very murky view as I swam. Normally, I would have given up on the swim. But in that moment, I felt God prompting me to focus on the guiding lights at the bottom of the pool. These short, evenly spaced strips of light marked out the lanes, and as I passed one light and looked to the next, I was able to swim in a straight line for a good number of laps without veering.

Those lights reminded me of Jesus, described in the Bible as our true Light (John 1:9). Our view might be murky right now, and we might not know what lies ahead or what to do. But we can take comfort that if we focus on the person of Christ instead of our circumstances, we won’t veer off-track.

Even when I don’t see the big picture, I see how Jesus leads me through each day whenever I spend time with Him, which sometimes leads me to share His love with a friend or prompts me to accept a big task or challenge that would prove to be character-moulding.

 

He’s our light switch in a dark room

Sometimes, however, our view might be so dark that we can’t catch sight of Christ at all. We can’t hear Him, we can’t feel His presence, and the words of the Bible just seem to stay on the pages, not making much sense. In times like this, I remember the light switch in my dark bedroom.

I use shade-out curtains to help me sleep, but the downside is, whenever I wake up in the middle of the night, I have to make my way through the dark to reach the light switch at the far end of my room. And sometimes, I would bump into “obstacles” on the way.

However, as time went by, I learned exactly where to step and turn to avoid these obstacles. More importantly, I never doubted that I would eventually reach the switch, knowing that my “source” of light would always be there.

In the same way, even when faced with the “dark night of the soul”, I know from His promises and my past experience that Jesus, my source of light, is always there, even when I don’t sense or hear Him. And I am encouraged to continue doing the things I’ve always done—read the Word, pray, praise, fellowship with others—knowing that these will bring me closer to Him. By continuously exposing myself to His words and surrounding myself with His people, over time His voice eventually becomes familiar and intimate to me again.

God has promised He would never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and we have hope that, by His grace and in His time, darkness will be made light before us (Isaiah 42:16).

 

He gives treasures in the darkness

As a society, we focus so much on finding light that it was a surprise to me to encounter the idea that there were worthy things to be found and made in the darkness, which I learned when I read A.W. Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy.

Tozer quotes Isaiah 45:3, where God tells the anointed king Cyrus, “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Many of God’s deeds, Tozer adds, from the creation of world to the resurrection of Christ, were done “in secret, away from the prying eyes of men or angels”. This is a call for us to learn to trust in who He is without having to know how it is done.

While the treasures in Isaiah 45 are likely not the same as those in our darkness, the fact remains that God is the same God who knows exactly where the “treasures” and “hidden riches” are.

In hindsight, these periods of darkness have brought me a greater hunger to seek Christ, a deeper trust in His character, and greater maturity and patience. These treasures might not be immediately apparent to us, but what matters is the infinitely wise and good God gives these treasures to His chosen and beloved children.

 

The past few years have not all been pure darkness, thankfully. Sometimes, it’s a grey murkiness, sometimes, there are faint glimmers of light, and sometimes, I come into flashes of brilliant sunshine. I’m still figuring out God’s calling for my next season of life, and still struggle with dark emotions at times (though a lot less), but I am thankful that He still speaks to me in my day-to-day life.

Your light at the end of the tunnel might come soon, or you might have to wait a little longer. However long that may be, let us persevere, knowing that, as Romans 8:38-39 says, neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 reply
  1. Christine Mulvihill
    Christine Mulvihill says:

    I love your story, it brings back memories for me of a battle I had some time ago.

    My name is Christine and I am a 15-year-old childhood cancer survivor. I thought that after I was discharged from the hospital everything would be normal or even sort of normal, but that’s not how this story goes. You see, somewhere through all this my soul has been scared and a curse cast upon myself, a curse I will take to my grave.

    I remember the day before I was brought into the hospital I was at my old cottage, my favorite place to be as a young carefree little girl. I remember we were at my favorite beach, I was wearing my favorite pink top, that was of course weather inappropriate, but I was a very independent little girl, I had perfect, curly, golden blond hair, but I never let my mom or dad do my hair or dress me. Even in our family photo I woke my big brother and insisted on wearing my christening dress. I was as wild as my hair which I hated being brushed, yet seemed to keep its radiance even in the wind of our common boat rides and open hooded car rides in our old Firebird convertible. I was just an untameable and happy kid.

    My childhood …well what I got from the first three years, apart from being punished for my random acts of boldness; was the best time of my life. I always look back and think about the life I had and could have had. I thought nothing could stop me …boy was I wrong!

    My story begins at the age of three at The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

    I saw the tears in my mother’s eyes and the concern on my father’s face. I had no idea why or what was happening. “What’s going on momma?” I asked her. She didn’t reply, she just held my hand and started to cry.

    Less than 40% chance is not what anyone would have hoped for. But you can’t change the odds; you can only fight against them.

    When we found out that I had ALL, (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) my family members tried to explain to me what was going to happen, but I know now that nothing in the entire world could prepared me for what was about to happen.

    Before I knew it, I was hooked up to an IV and all my long blonde gorgeous hair was gone, once perfectly placed on my two-year-old head, now on my pillow.

    About a year later my angel Sarah went back to heaven. She died in her sleep, because the doctors failed to find a match for her bone marrow transplant.

    Sitting in my hospital bed with the sounds of people crying and other children screaming out in pain and agony echoing through my head, I dream…

    What If Faith is Not Enough?

    A Childhood Cancer Survivor Poem
    © 2016 Christine Mulvihill

    When reality finally hits you it hurts
    When the truth comes into focus it’s brutally painful.
    Hope isn’t always enough
    It’s not always a happy ending.
    What happens when faith is not enough?

    I get hot flashes
    My depression splashes
    My soul is cold like stone,
    The fear of being alone.

    So now I lay me down to sleep
    I pray you lord my soul to keep
    Don’t let me die before I wake
    I pray you lord my soul do not take.

    I barely have a past
    And may have no future
    Empty pages of a book
    A story left unwritten
    A life left unlived
    A hope left in the dust.
    Please don’t take me yet
    Your mercy you won’t regret
    I am down on my knees
    Begging you please
    Don’t take me away.

    At night I dream a misty graveyard
    A tombstone the name I cannot see
    A flashlight in the darkness
    A figure so lifeless I cannot breathe,
    Then I awake not as fearless as I may seem.

    If this is my future
    And if it comes to pass
    And this breath be my last
    Then this thought to you I cast.

    What if faith is not enough?
    Then life would be rather tough
    With nothing to believe in
    And nothing to justify
    Nothing to keep you sane
    Nothing to grasp when you fall
    You will have nothing, nothing at all.

    Sometimes that is how I am
    Falling in the darkness
    With nothing to take hold
    This feeling leaves me cold
    hearted, soulless, empty.
    All I feel is the pain of being unreal
    No one knows how this life feels,
    When you are so lifeless.

    So now I lay me down to cry
    I pray you lord you can’t let me die.
    Now I lay me down to sleep
    Close my eyes without a peep
    Never to be opened again.

    Looking back, all I had ever wanted as a child was to be loved and accepted. There was only one place I had ever felt equal and that was the fourth floor of the hospital where I was treated as a patient with leukemia. That was the one place I never looked at myself in the mirror and felt I didn’t belong. When I was there it was the only time I was not the only bald headed three year old with a hole in my chest. I was one of many little children fighting for life. In that hospital I found all the love and care I could ever ask for.

    Another Bad Angry Day

    What did I do wrong? Why does my life always get f**d over? Why is it that all my dreams always fall to pieces? ….All these thoughts ran rapidly through my head as the glass bottle containing my special dried flowers crashed to the floor of my bedroom.
    Memories can be good things, and sometimes when it’s over they are all you have left. I was blessed with an extremely vivid memory which I am grateful for, but every time the glass shatters I remember what I lost over 10 years ago, all the times the glass has shattered and all the struggles of faith that the sun will shine again for me. I get angry because all I can seem to think of are the times I had everything, but was too blind to see it, and how it was taken from me, and now at times I feel I have nothing.
    This clearly is a bad angry day. There are a lot of these when you are in my situation.

    To Be Anyone but Me

    A Childhood Cancer Survivor Poem
    © 2016 Christine Mulvihill

    Look at me, I seem a rather happy child
    With a life of things tender and mild
    A life where there is no need for lies
    A life in which she rarely cries.

    How stereotypical of you my friend
    My life is quite different from beginning to end
    Much worse than just petty remorse and guilt
    Depression covers my days like a fitted quilt
    It makes the slightest drop overflow my cup
    I’m forever looking down, not up.

    Even my smile can’t disguise
    Those refuge tears in my eyes
    Take a look inside my heart
    And you’ll see my life has fallen apart.

    Friends I have many but they can’t see
    What kind of pain lies inside of me
    They want me to be happy, they even coax
    Hell they even laugh at most of my jokes,
    But that’s not all a friend is for
    Call me greedy but I need more
    I need people who actually want me there
    I need to know they really care.

    I need someone who’ll be there before the tears run down my cheeks
    Someone who won’t continue ignoring me for the next few weeks
    But when I’m being the only person I know how
    To a life like this I should say chow
    Because I’m not pretty and popular like everyone I know
    Me and all those things simply don’t go
    For this reason I hate popularity and I hate wealth
    But most of all I hate myself.

    I can’t be someone I’m not
    I could keep trying until I rot
    The only person who brought this on me was me
    If only I’d been me and not the person I was pretending to be.

    I hope everyone else knows how lucky they are
    Because they are their own shining star
    They don’t have a curse hanging over their head
    Wishing they had died in that hospital bed
    Each day brings a new disappointment a new problem without a solution
    When will this continuous circle come to a conclusion.

    Everyone else would be happy to be you
    I’d be happy to be you too
    I’d give up anything to be happy again
    To know what it is to have a true friend.

    So while I’m stuck in a Pandora’s box without a door
    Happy to be rich be happy to be poor
    Happy to taste touch feel and see
    But most of all be happy to be anyone but me.

    During my never-ending search to find myself, I hit rock bottom emotionally. I became extremely depressed and drove people away. I became so alone, shut off in my own world of insanity, I became so desperate for a way out I became suicidal. My world became a dark place and the only way I could get out my emotions was with poetry. I wrote many poems, some about misery, depression, pain, life and poems about death. My poetry, in a way, pulled me apart from the rest of the world. The pen and paper would never betray me but the more I got into it the deeper and deeper I sank, until I could no longer feel life. Eventually people began to realize there was something wrong. About F**n Time, I had been having suicide thoughts for months, I was ready to destroy myself.

    How can you put faith in something that has betrayed you like radiation? I always had faith in God and he has never betrayed me so how can I put my life in the hands of the daemon like radiation? I don’t know how I did it but with God on my side I shook hands and made peace with my daemon. I trust him again. It seems crazy knowing I won’t know for at least six months if it really did work and I’ll never know how long I have before my cancer strikes back, but there is no way I am giving up now, I have come so far and been through so much, I don’t care what I have to do, this girl isn’t going down!

    I Once was Lost

    A Childhood Cancer Survivor Poem
    © 2016 Christine Mulvihill

    Here I am drowning in the sea
    A sea of everything I don’t want to be
    A sea of all my failures and mistakes
    A sea of my tears and splitting headaches.

    Waves of sorrow wash over my face
    I go under with a silent grace
    I fall down deeper in my depression
    Deeper and deeper into my obsession.

    I’m overwhelmed with all my faults
    My skin is burning from the salts
    Salts of what I could have been
    If only I could have seen
    What the future has in store
    How soon I would reach the shore.

    Now my storm dried up in the sun
    Maybe I am a lucky one.

    Now I’m walking on water because I have Faith
    This tortuous dungeon I have escaped
    I hold His hand as He walks me to land
    I bend down and kiss the merciful sand.

    So happy to have found happiness again
    Now the sun overpowers the rain
    Amazing grace how sweet the sound
    I once was lost but now am found.

    Dear God

    Each day is a gift from you, a new chance to do better, a chance to learn from our mistakes and a chance to make new ones.

    God, you give us the power to shape the day according to our own will, please help us shape this day in Your Image.

    Amen

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