LIGHT: MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW

We’ve had days and days of cold, dreary weather.  Gray days that drain you of energy and motivation.  At least that is what they are doing to me.  Maybe sometime this summer I will think that I could have spent this time cleaning out closets and organizing photos, but mostly I have just sat in my chair and read.  Where is the sunlight?

 

In the Bible study I attend, we have been studying the book of 1 John.  Maybe it is because I am so light deprived, but I seem to be drawn to John’s description of God as light.  He uses this reference in his epistles as well as the Gospel of John.  “God is light,” (1 John 1:5); “I am the light of the World,” John 8:12.  John also uses light and darkness to contrast truth and lies, good and evil.  On the surface these seem to be pretty elementary truths, but God has been taking me deeper, teaching me about light.

 

I left Bible study the other day thinking about how light can travel, but darkness cannot.  When it is dark in my house, but light outside I can open the shutters and a dark room becomes light.  But the opposite is not true.  If it is dark outside and light inside, opening the shutters will not make the room dark.  It won’t even dilute the light that is there.  So there was my first truth: light can travel into the darkness, but darkness cannot travel to the light.  The rest of that verse in 1 John says that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”  God is pure and holy, and the darkness of sin cannot change or corrupt His holiness. But His light can travel and penetrate the darkness of sin.  Remember, dark cannot travel.  When I was in the darkness of sin I had no way to get to the Light on my own.  The Light had to come to me.  And He did that by dying on a cross, bridging that chasm that separated me from the Light.  The Light came and rescued me from the darkness.

 

I’m told I have a weird brain and I guess it is true.  I became more curious about light and did a little research, and if you are not into a lot of technical stuff you might not want to finish reading.  Whew, there is a LOT of information about light available. It is at once simple and complex, obvious and mysterious.  I will try not to put you to sleep.

 

The world “light” appears over 200 times in the Bible, so I’m thinking God wants us to know about it. I found my second truth right away: Light is necessary to sustain life.  I guess you could say I had a light bulb moment (pun intended), because it hit me right away.  God’s first recorded words were, “Let there be light.”  Duh!  As creator and sustainer of life, He knew light was necessary for creation.  Light provides the energy for life to grow and thrive.  When plants are deprived of light they don’t do well and may even die.  Light, by way of photosynthesis, provides the very oxygen we need to breathe.  Many humans become depressed when they go for days without light.  Light is our source of vitamin D and regulates our circadian rhythms.  When I don’t get enough spiritual light, I notice the difference.  I don’t grow and thrive spiritually.  One resource noted that light increases fertility and eases pain. The light of the Lord makes me a more fertile Christian.  When I am getting my daily dose of Light I am more likely to share with others.  And oh how Light eases the pain of living in a fallen world.  I often wonder how non Believers survive.

 

Third truth: Light helps us see.  There is a good deal of neurobiology involving light and vision, but the simple truth is we cannot see without light.  One of my favorite hymns is Be Thou My Vision.  God as Light helps me see things from His perspective.  The Light helps me see people through His eyes. It reveals dangers that are hidden in the darkness and it keeps me from stumbling, from sinning.  Light directs my feet and keeps me on the right path and takes me in the direction He has for my life.

 

Fourth truth: Light purifies.  Light, especially the ultraviolet component, sterilizes. It kills germs and keeps things free from microbes.  The Light (Jesus) cleanses me from the contamination of sin.  Scripture tells us that if we walk in the Light the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

 

Fifth truth: Light allows us to see color.  In darkness we can see no colors because we need light in order to perceive color.  This gets into biophysics, which is a lot of blah, blah, blah to me, but colors have spectra.  Some spectra are absorbed and others are reflected.  The reflected color falls on our eyeballs and sends a signal to the brain, where we perceive color.  I knew there had to be a spiritual application here so I thought about all the colors of God.  If you ever want to do a study on this, a good place to begin is Exodus, where God gives instructions for the tabernacle and the priestly garments.  He instructs the use of specific colors, representing the deity of Christ…gold for His glory and holiness, red for His redeeming blood, purple for His kingship, and silver for redemption.  Once we have the Light (Jesus), we can begin to see God in His fullness.  The Light allows us to see more of who He is.

 

I guess I could go on and on about light, but this is probably enough for now.  If I studied for the rest of my life I could never learn every spiritual truth about light.  That’s because God’s Word is inexhaustible.  When Jesus referred to himself as the Light of the World there was so much truth and power packed into that declaration!  Thank you, Father for sending the Light into our dark world.

 

Light of the world, illumine me.

 

 

Happy…I Mean Holy New Year!

I saw something on Facebook the other day that caught my attention.  It was a challenge to select a person you know, and starting January 1, to pray for their happiness every day for a month.  Sounds like a good idea.  I knew immediately who I would choose.  This person has been through a season of sorrow and she could do with some happiness about now.  And just as quickly, I had another thought.  This one had to be from the Holy Spirit because I could not have come up with this on my own, at least not as quickly.  “Instead of praying for her happiness, pray for her holiness.”  Of course!  That is a much better prayer.  

God is not as concerned with our happiness as He is with our holiness.  If you look at a Bible concordance you will find that the word “holy” is used 650 times in The New American Standard Bible.  I did a quick search and found that “happy’ is used a mere16 times, and the word “happiness” is used only four!  Clearly God is emphasizing holiness.

Now there is nothing wrong with happiness, and I suppose happiness can be defined in many different ways.  I know I am happy when I am surrounded by my family, and as a mom, I am happy when they are happy.  For some people happiness may lie in material possessions: money in the bank, a big house, a fancy car….you can fill in the blank here.  Again there is nothing wrong with nice things, but I see many people in my psychology practice who have all of those things but they are not happy.

For many of us happiness lies in “if only” and the “as soon as.”  If only I had my health I could be happy.  I will be happy as soon as I get that job, find someone to love, graduate and get that degree, lose twenty pounds, and so on.  If only I had more money, a new car, or no mortgage.  We wish our lives away waiting for that thing, person, or situation that will make us happy.  Or we spend our lives looking in the rear view mirror, regretting our choices and blaming our unhappiness on the decisions we made.  I am not saying that is wrong because most of us have regrets. And we are all only one bad decision away from messing up our lives and throwing happiness away.  But defining your happiness or lack thereof on the things we should have done or wish we hadn’t done is a waste.  If only things were different we could be happy.  I’m thinking of two widows I know who miss their husbands every day of their lives.  One has chosen to find joy and purpose, the other cannot find good in anything and is just waiting to die.

Where is God when I am unhappy?  When I grieve, when I hurt?  Doesn’t He care about my needs?  I believe He does, but I also believe His primary concern is for my spiritual needs. God is not some kind of cosmic Santa Claus standing before me to hear my wish list.  Instead, I stand before Him, aware of my utter neediness and spiritual poverty.  Without Christ and the salvation He brings, I have nothing but a death sentence hanging over my head.  Jesus came to bring me right standing with God and everlasting life.  So even if I had nothing more than that (and that is a lot!), I should be happy.  Jesus said He offers abundant life, so shouldn’t that abundance include happiness?

If God cares so much about us, why do we go through seasons of anguish?  Try to get a mental picture of what is making you unhappy, sad, and stricken with grief.  An unhappy marriage, estrangement from a loved one, a financial loss, bad news from the doctor…whatever it is.  Now picture that thing as a giant anvil and imagine God has placed you upon it and is chiseling away everything that does not look like Jesus.  That is holiness in the making!  

Are happiness and holiness mutually exclusive?  In the 1600s a man named Thomas Brookswrote at length about the connection between happiness and holiness.  He claimed that happiness and holiness were one in the same.  That the only way to true happiness is throughholiness.  Matthew Henry later wrote that only those who are truly holy can be truly happy.  When I started thinking about these things, I recalled stories about those who have been imprisoned and martyred for their faith.  The apostle Paul and Corrie and Betsy ten Boom come to mind.  Every December I do advent readings, and those usually include letters Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison.  In a letter to his beloved Maria he wrote: “I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas.”  How could he say that from a prison cell?  He knew the happiness of celebrating Christmas with empty hands but a full heart.

Every year at this time I look for a verse or a word to claim for the New Year.  I think my word will be holiness because God keeps brining it to my attention. I’m guessing I will go through another refining period. And as I think of all holiness means I realize I have much to learn.  I’ll keep you posted.

PUTTING THINGS IN ORDER

Last night I did something different, something I have needed to do for a long time.  Together with some of my friends I began a three-week class called “What Do I Do Now?”  It’s a class that not only gives you a great deal of information about what to do when a loved one dies, it helps you organize everything you need and get it into one place.

 

I promised myself four years ago that I would get things together because that was when Jerry suddenly became very ill and was unable to communicate.  In addition to being gravely worried about him, there were things I needed to take care of.  Life doesn’t stop when someone becomes very ill or dies.  There was information I needed from him about bank accounts, passwords, and ongoing business transactions.  I needed to access the contents of his briefcase but I didn’t know the combination.  With the help of my daughters I muddled along and happily, Jerry recovered.  I wish I could tell you I followed through on my resolution, but once the crisis was past so was the urgency to get things done. This year we have been more intentional and have made inroads, but there is still much to be accomplished.  So when this class became available I enrolled.

 

I have to tell you the first night was overwhelming.  I am surprised at my reaction, because I wanted to bolt!  The facilitator told us at the beginning of her lesson that last night would be the hardest.  “What could be so hard,” I wondered.  I’m still asking myself that question this morning.  Why was my reaction so strong?  This is just taking care of details.

 

I think it’s a combination of facing my own mortality, revisiting the possibility that I might lose my husband, all the decisions that will have to be made about what to do with my physical remains, my earthly possessions, and even my dogs.  Things I guess I am still not wanting to think about. But the harsh reality is that one day Jerry and I will die.  “Pass away” sounds so much nicer, but that’s just semantics.  We will leave this earth behind and enter into the presence of Jesus. That’s the good news.  The bad news is there will be hard things to do in the aftermath.  If I go first I want to make things easier for Jerry and my girls, so it will be helpful to have things done in advance.  And if he goes first I want to make things easier for me, so having everything in one notebook will help.

 

This year I am doing a Bible study of the book of Daniel.  Instead of approaching the book from a prophetic standpoint, our study is focusing on the sovereignty of God.  “God is in control,’ is our overarching theme.  So in my lesson this morning I was challenged to consider areas of my life that make me anxious, and write a Bible truth that corresponds to the situation.  I didn’t have to think too long.  My notebook from last night was sitting on my desk in plain view.  The verse I wrote is one of my favorites, Isaiah 41:10:

 

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand. (CSV).

 

I might need to tattoo that verse on my right hand.  (Don’t worry kids, I won’t!)  God’s promise brings my anxiety level way down.  It is wise to be prepared, but ultimately God is in control. He knows the road ahead of me, and He will walk it with me.     

 

 

NECESSARY LOSSES

Dropping Off at College: Freshman Year

 

This is one of my favorite times of the year to look at social media.  Facebook and Instagram are loaded with back to school pictures…from first day at preschool to first day of college.  There have even been some leaving-home-for-first-job pictures.  Keep them coming!  These pictures are always bittersweet.  I especially love the pictures that show the goodbye hugs, the tears, and the looks on faces of both parent and child.  There have even been some blog posts about the struggle of letting go, trusting God with your child no matter what age they are.  We keep having to put our babies back in the basket and float them into the future God has for them.

 

I’ve been thinking about this letting go thing for some time now, and it is a continual theme in my office. I’ve decided that life is a succession of losses, one letting go after another.  And oh how we hate that letting go.  It’s been many years since I have read Judith Viorst’s book, Letting Go.  I’m remembering the central tenant of the book is that life presents us with a series of losses that are necessary to our growth and development.  These losses include the loss of a mother’s protection, the losses of impossible expectations for our lives, the loss of our younger selves (OUCH!), and the loss of loved ones through separation or death. Trying to hold on is futile, but we still hang on, sometimes desperately.  

 

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that demonstrates the struggle involved in letting go.  Try to picture your seven-year old self with both fists full of coins.  You have been collecting and saving those coins, maybe for something special. These coins are yours, and you finally have enough to fill both of your tightly clenched hands.  Now suppose a stranger comes along and offers you two handfuls of diamonds.  But in order to receive these diamonds you have to let go of your coins.  Maybe as a seven-year old, you don’t realize the value of diamonds.  And you are very suspicious of this stranger.  He might not have your best interest at heart.  So you refuse the offer and keep your coins.  But you have done so at the expense of great treasure.

 

At the heart of letting go is loss of control.  We think if we hold on we can protect and keep.  But control is just an illusion.  We only have control over our choices, not the outcome.  We can exercise, eat the right foods, have regular checkups, and faithfully brush our teeth, but cancer may get us anyway.  As for letting go of our children, that was the whole goal from the beginning.  You do your best as a parent.  You provide them with all the basics and many of the luxuries.  You try your best to teach them to be kind and respectful, to be contributing members of society, and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  But the window of time for this training is brief.  When you look at eighteen years in the rear view mirror, it seems like it went by so fast.  And it goes by even faster with grandchildren!  We have to remind ourselves over and over that those children we poured ourselves into were never ours to begin with.  They belong to God and were on loan to us for a short time. We also must remember that God loves them even more than we do.  I remember a long-ago conversation with God when I heard Him say, “How can I be God in her life if you keep trying to be God?”  Moms and dads, here is a little secret: The empty nest is also wonderful.  Seeing your baby hold her baby is priceless!  Watching your son teach his son how to hit a baseball is special!  You wouldn’t want to miss out on that.  Growing old with the man you have loved for a lifetime is a hard-to-put-into-words blessing.  We need to understand that there are different kinds of good. Holding on to what is already gone keeps us stuck, and it keeps us from enjoying our new chapters, new seasons. You will get through this, and a year from now things may look entirely different (see photos above and below.)

 

There are daily losses I must reckon with, and more losses to come.  A look in the mirror is a reminder.  I now know from experience that every loss comes with a gain, a hidden gift.  But oh how I hate losing firm skin!  Even the worst of losses, the death of a loved one or our own death, is a necessary loss.  We try to hold on to people, positions, possessions, and even our own lives, but these are things that keep us earthbound.  I need to open my hands and let go of the coins because diamonds await!

 

To everything there is a season…a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away.  Ecc. 3: 6.

 

Dropping Off at College: Sophomore Year