What is it about the dark that is so scary?
I was visiting a friend recently who has a young child. Scattered around the house, at least one in every room, were small night lights to keep the darkness at bay, provide comfort for the child and to help the parents navigate a dark house in the middle of the night.
We learn from a young age to be fearful of the dark. Children often cry when put in a dark room to sleep and some children will not enter a room without the lights on. When my sister was a teenager, one night while my family was at church for Wednesday night choir practice, thought she saw something walk by a window. Her immediate response was to run around and turn every light in the house on. Somehow the light would protect her from whatever she thought she saw.
Even some adults are afraid of the dark. Even if we have grown accustomed to a dark house at night we are put on edge by just the idea of walking down a dark street or ally- even when we know it is a safe neighborhood.
Horror movies teach us that as long as it is daytime and the lights are on, everything is safe. It’s when the night comes and the lights go out when those things worthy of fear come to reality. Ghosts and the boogie man only come out at night. We fear what is unknown, unseen and undetectable. Darkness exacerbates that fear.
Maybe your fears are less ambiguous than just the darkness. Children who are scared of the dark cannot be reasoned with. As adults sometimes we can talk ourselves out of being afraid or build up our courage enough to check out the noise coming from the dark basement despite our fears. But some fears are very real and justified and cannot be easily dismissed and brushed aside.
Many of you have children who live far away from home; many miles away from your ability to protect them -no matter how old they are- you still worry. We are sometimes afraid to send children to school, especially immediately following a tragic school shooting. Some of you have children and grandchildren who are deployed overseas in the military. We worry about driving home in bad weather. We worry as we wait on test results from the doctor. We fear we won’t have enough money to pay the bills.
Whatever your life situation is, fear is often very real. As Christians we sometimes take those fears and attempt to address them with easy answers- We say things like Trust God, just pray about it, God will make it right and sometimes these quick answers make us question our feelings, and make us feel our fears are irrational.
We claim with a loud voice that Christ is our savior and we will spend eternal life with him in heaven but what we want is to be saved right there in that moment- not just in the afterlife. We need a savior-now!
When the car breaks down on a snowy night we need a savior of our souls but we also need a physical savior to get us out of the situation. When the power goes out we need light and heat. When a family member is in a war zone yes, we want them to have eternal salvation but we also pray for their safety now. When we’re waiting for the test results or the surgery to be scheduled- we want to be saved-now.
We hear these same concerns as we read this Psalm. It speaks to us of the fear of enemies and adversaries. Although we may not have an actual physical enemy we each have our own personal adversaries and challenges. Although there is trust in God and God’s ability to save right then- there is also confidence in eternal salvation. The psalms teach us how to pray honestly about our fears and uncertainties. The writer of this Psalm shows us it is possible to cry out for help and offer trust and praise at the same time.
The Psalmist remembers times when God has answered his prayers; times when God indeed did come to the rescue. This gives him courage to face his new fears and confidence that God will once again come through.
We gain this courage through worship. As we sing songs, hear scripture read and proclaimed, as we fellowship with our church family we gain strength. Worship happens here on Sunday mornings but it also happens throughout the week. Maybe it is hearing a sermon on the radio while you drive or an especially meaningful song you hear as you straighten up the house. Many of you enjoy spending time in nature so maybe your worship is in the flower that blooms out of season and beckons God’s promise of new life or simply the sounds of birds in your yard. Each of these is a sound reminder to worship God not just on Sunday mornings but throughout the week.
We gain courage through prayer. Sometimes just saying your problems out loud gives you a new perspective. Talking with God often sheds light on other areas of your life where you can draw strength. Or maybe it is gathering with friends to pray. There is strength and courage in simply knowing that there are others on your side and praying for you. Although this psalm is an individual prayer- my light, my salvation; many are communal prayers for and with the community.
We gain courage through service. When we strive to help others we see the world through different eyes. We appreciate the gifts we have and recognize how God has answered our prayers and how much we are truly blessed when we see how others struggle. When our decision for the evening is where to go for dinner and the person we are helping simply wishes there was something to eat- it puts problems in perspective.
We gain courage from sharing the love of God with others. As we tell others about God’s love and share our story of salvation- times in our lives when we can look back and know- God was there- God changed the circumstances in life to where a negative outcome was not a solution or just in the nick of time showed me a more positive way. Telling our stories reminds us that God is trustworthy and will come again.
Fear is real but when we look through life there are times when we can point out when God was there. We know that God sent Christ to be the light in the darkness. There is no reason to live in our fear. Fear is real but we can trust in a God who hears our prayers, cares about us, answers our prayers and who has a good track record of coming through in the past. We know we have eternal salvation through Jesus Christ but we also know we have a God who saves right here and now. We have a God who makes all things work towards the good and can turn even the darkest situation into one of joy.
We may not have all the answers to why bad things happen, why there is reason for fear, and why it sometimes seems God is absent but when we put our trust in God we can see the light at the end, we can see the hope that faith brings.
As we travel through this period of Lent we purposefully put ourselves in a place where we are aware of the darkness of life. We reflect on our own faith, our relationship with Christ, and we project that faith to the rest of the world. We acknowledge the darkness but we also acknowledge the dawn to come, the rising of the light of the world- Jesus Christ with whom there is no more need of fear and with whom shines light on all who seek to live in a relationship with him.
This doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen but with Christ we have the courage to face whatever comes our way and to go into the darkness of life with confidence that we have a God who loves us and will bring us out on the other side; A God who gives us the courage and strength to wait trusting that we will see the goodness of the Lord in this life.
Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage. Whom shall you fear?-wait for the Lord!