What do we do when we are experiencing Darkness in our lives?

On March 19, 2003 I had the privilege of moving from Kuwait into Iraq in what would become known as “Operation Iraqi Freedom” or OIF 1. This was a moment that we had been planning for during the previous year and had aggressively war-gamed throughout the months of February and early March. We spent so much time preparing in fact, that nearly 20 years later I can still remember the operational terms and call-signs along with most of the visual markers that we would use during our movement.

Each step, the placement of each vehicle, and the exact timeline were memorized from the top of the command chain down to the bottom. Nothing was left to chance. The plan was to begin our movement as the sun started to rise in the early hours of March 19th and, if you had asked me on the 18th, I would have told you that this was going to be a simple, daylight movement with little chance for anything to go wrong.

I have always been a little naïve. After months of planning to move with the sun in the sky, we instead received the order to go during the darkest part of the night! Nothing we had planned, except moving into another country applied and the mission was to just “get there.”  While I am sure there were strategic reasons for this last-minute change, one thing became very clear:

When you find yourself in the dark, even when you start with a good plan,  very little makes sense and even “getting there” becomes overwhelming.

As I have gotten older and lived through some battles that did not include invading other countries, I’ve discovered that fighting in the dark is ALWAYS hard even when the battles are emotional or spiritual or relational instead of physical. I believe that most of us start off with a good plan but that the events of life and the actions of others can push us into a darkness that we didn’t see coming. So many things stop making sense and doing anything other than just “holding on” feels impossible. It is often in these dark unexpected times that we make permanent decisions that will destroy our future and greatly impact the future of those closest to us.

The dark makes everything worse and there is nothing darker than an overwhelmed soul.

What I find interesting about this is that everyone experiences the dark but not everyone allows it to overwhelm them. One of the lies we tell ourselves when life becomes uncertain is that no one can possibly relate. We believe that what we are living through is unlike anything anyone else has experienced and therefore gives us permission to do things we know, at least in our rational moments, are not right. These thoughts then lead us to the conclusion that we are probably the ones at fault for our situation and the best thing we could do is simply remove the problem-US!

We rationalize that normal people don’t have these kinds of problems so we must be broken. We conclude that the world will be a better place if we are no longer in it. It is this kind of thinking that causes many to reject the Bible or a relationship with God as a solution because they have come to believe that God the Bible and the Church are only for people who “have it all together”. It doesn’t apply to them. 

This is when I like to share one of my favorite stories from the life of Jesus.

The story can be found in the Bible in Mark 14:34-36. I will paraphrase the story here but encourage you to take some time to read the whole thing. It is an incredible narrative and so clearly illustrates the humanity of Jesus Christ. The story takes place on the night that Jesus would be arrested in a place called Gethsemane. This was a place that He would go alone to pray and on this night he brought his disciples. We could spend a lot of time talking about the disciples but suffice it to say that the only thing Jesus asked them to do was stay awake, and the only thing they did was fall asleep!  As He was approaching the crucifixion it seems that Jesus wanted to have people around him that cared but ended up very alone. In the dark. Overwhelmed by what was about to happen.

If you are familiar with this story you know that Jesus used this time to pray to God, the Father. Again, there is much that could be said here, but what we must not forget is that Jesus is God the Son and one with God the Father. At this moment in time, though, there would be a temporary separation between the two as Jesus took sin on Himself to make it possible for humanity to have a relationship with the Father.

The takeaway for us is this:

Jesus is God and, as such, is perfect.

Jesus was experiencing rejection, separation, and anguish because He was getting ready to engage in the most important act in history-the redemption of mankind.

Jesus was living through all of this as the darkness of the hour, of sin and of humanity began to overwhelm Him.

The anguish of this moment was so great that Luke 22:44, tells us that as Jesus cried out to God the Father He sweat “great drops of blood.” As all of this was happening Jesus must have remembered the prophecy of Isaiah 53:3 that said He would be, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And yet through everything, He persevered and accomplished the mission that brought Him to earth.

What I love about this story is just how relatable it makes Jesus to my life! He is God, did no wrong, was giving everything to serve others and STILL experienced sorrow and grief. If Jesus experienced these things, then we must believe they will be a part of the normal life experience. We don’t want to live through any of this, but when it comes, we can be comforted knowing that we are not alone and that there is a path forward.

So, what lessons can we take from the story of Jesus as He lived through the darkness of rejection and anguish?

1. We are not alone. If even Jesus had to endure these things, then there is not a person on earth who will not. You are not broken because you are dealing with something hard (whether you created that hard thing or not) you are simply human. Don’t ever believe the lie that there is no one in the world who understands.

2. The mission is what carries you forward. It is during this time that the Bible records Jesus saying to God the Father, “Not my will but thine be done” (Mark 14:36). Jesus had previously declared that His mission was to pay the price for sin on the cross (Luke 19:10) and it was this mission that carried Him forward when it would have been easier, and made more sense, to quit.

3. None of this was about Him. Since the mission was clear Jesus lived for the benefit of those He came to redeem. We move through the darkness because there are people in our lives that need us to do it-for them. Jesus, as God, did what He did for us. We need to live our lives and make decisions for others. (Philippians 2)

4. Timing does not always make sense. That’s ok though because it’s not about you! Jesus clearly understood the timeline that He was operating on, but no one else did. That’s why the disciples fell asleep. They didn’t realize they had anything to worry about. Why do things happen when they do and why do they last as long as they do? Only God knows the answers to either of those questions so our focus should move from “why” to “what now?”

5. You must look outside of yourself for Hope. As Jesus prayed, He was declaring that His source of Hope and direction was the Father. Faith in one who does not change and has it all figured out is the only way to move forward during the dark, anguish of soul times of life.

Some truths to hang on to:

Psalm 34:18 The LORD is near unto them that are of a broken heart; and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

1Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. God loves you and has made every provision for you in Christ.

On that dark night moving into Iraq in 2003 our battalion successfully accomplished our mission despite unforeseen obstacles (like changing the time of attack) and often overwhelming frustrations. We could not see, were exhausted, and had never done anything quite like this before. But we still came out on top. Why?

We did not have a choice! Quitting was not an option that anyone offered.

We had already decided that we weren’t going to lose two years before getting there as we trained in Southern CA. The decision to move forward despite what might happen had already been made.

We trusted those who had a bigger picture of the battlefield than us that they knew what they were doing.

War and life are not that different. Even Jesus lived these out. You may find yourself in the dark, but you don’t have to stay there.


Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash