Do you remember that scene in the movie, Lord of the Rings, when Sam trying to give Frodo hope and encouragement, asks Frodo if he can remember their home; but Frodo is so worn down from carrying the ring of power, that he says: “I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. Instead, I’m… naked in the dark.”
Have you ever felt like this? Dark and difficult times come to everyone, in our personal lives or in professional lives. How do you respond? What do you do when such darkness comes into your life?
Unfortunately, it has come to me repeatedly, and I have had ample opportunity to learn how to respond to times like this. I hope that my explanation of what I do might help others get through the darkness in their lives.
First, I would like to note that the darkness, no matter how long it may seem to last, is always temporary. “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” (Victor Hugo). Darkness will always give way to light. That darkness comes in many forms. It may be the death of a loved one, sickness or health, loss of a job, difficulties with a wayward child, depression or mental health issues, or any number of life’s many difficulties and stresses. So, then what is our light in the darkness?
“Intellect takes us along in the battle of life to a certain limit, but at the crucial moment it fails us. Faith transcends reason. It is when the horizon is the darkest and human reason is beaten down to the ground that faith shines brightest and comes to our rescue” (Mahatma Gandhi). Faith is the light that can dispel the darkness and allow us to see hope again. I have found that gratitude also has the power to help us peer through the darkness, to see the light and hope. In one of my other articles, I discuss heliotropic leadership and how life flourishes in positivity. Keeping focused on gratitude can help us focus on the positive, creating the environment for life to flourish.
I believe that we must also remember to smile and laugh during adversity and dark times, even though we do not feel like it, that is probably when we need it the most. One of my favorite quotes from Victor Hugo is from Les Miserables, “Laughter is sunshine, it chases winter from the human face” (Victor Hugo). While we may want to put up walls, sometimes the best cure to the darkness is to be around others. Often, my children were the beacons of light in my life. My little ones could not see the darkness around us. They only looked for the smile on my face, and to them, life was so simple and joyful. For my little children, to be the center of our world, well, that alone brought much laughter and joy to our family. Additionally, going out to serve others has often helped me to forget the darkness and lose myself in others. It is miraculous how when seeking to lift others; instead, we lift ourselves. “A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness can be spread without diminishing that of yourself” (Mahatma Gandhi).
However, I recognize that sometimes the darkness can, at times, be so great that it can make us socially impotent and immobile. It is not my intent to make it seem that getting through the darkness is simple or easy. Nor do I intend to minimize depression and mental health. Depression and mental health are real and often require help with medication. But often, the first step to healing with all of this is a simple step of faith, without that faith, there is no step toward healing.
It seems like a lifetime ago that I was in Fort Knox, Kentucky, as part of an Army leadership training program. As part of that training, we were taken to an indoor pool and put through several exercises. During one of those, I found myself climbing a tall ladder to the top of a diving board. I do not recall how tall it was, but my memory seems to think it was around 20 meters high. When I got to the top of the diving board, I was given a dummy rifle and blindfolded. I was then told to carefully walk to the end of the diving board and step off. Well, this was all good, but I was one of those poor souls that had no idea how to swim and was terribly afraid of deep water. I stepped carefully to the end of the diving board and said a quick prayer, “Lord, if this is the end, please let it be quick.” I admit, for a moment, fear gripped me, I was frozen and did not feel I could step off. But after all, it is just one step. So, I stepped off and plunged into the darkness. I will never forget what it felt like as I was swallowed up in the deep water, blindfolded. It is how I felt in life metaphorically many times after. Frequently it seems I have taken that step into the darkness, only to find nothing there and that I am then swallowed up into the depths of the deep. Gasping for air, it seems I am always about to drown, but somehow, I don’t. Somehow, I make it to dry ground, and the blindfold is removed.
A Roman poet once said, “endure, and save yourself for those days of happiness that lay ahead.” While enduring is essential, and sometimes it may seem all we can do is exist, it is also important how we endure. Do we endure by succumbing to addictions and other negative habits that can harm our character and moral integrity? I will admit that when encountering such overwhelming and succumbing darkness, my initial reaction is to retreat and close in. But I have learned to retreat to my God and to cleave to Him as He cleaves to us. Turning to Him helps me to refocus on what is most important, and once I am able to start to feel His love and peace or His light, the darkness begins to dispel. “The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God” (Victor Hugo). We choose to find God in misfortune. I think that is the key, we choose to find Him. That is how I found Him, through loss, misfortune, and anguish of soul. When the darkness of life comes and closes in around me, it is through Him that I can find the light to dispel it and find hope. I do not mean to say that I am all smiles when the darkness comes, no rather, I am probably the opposite. I struggle and flounder until I get my bearings straightened out, but that is the point.
When adversity and darkness come, how do we endure and push through? How do we find the light so we can see again? Going to the source of all light is a good starting point, and while we do so, we may be gasping for air and floundering in the water for help. I was amazed to discover when I fell into the water, into that darkness, as it seemed the water sucked me in, I was also propelled upward so that I could take a breath of air, and the water seemed to suck me down again, but then I came back up and yet again was able to take another breath. Don’t give up, keep relying on God and trusting in Him, just as the darkness may seem to suck us down, our faith will pull us up, and eventually, we will find our way, we will find Him, and we will find that He has been there the whole time.
I am a witness of Him, I have found Him. He is real. In the darkness, when it seemed there was no hope, I reached out to Him and found Him. I have beheld His glory, but even more importantly, I have been filled with His love. He is the source of all light, and He is the victor over all darkness.