Darkest before Dawn

The little ironies of life are funny sometimes.  Often when we think we look our best, we feel great all day, go home and look in the mirror and find that the feeling doesn’t quite match our appearance. Perhaps there’s food stuck in our teeth or dandruff on our shoulders. Maybe we have sweat stains under our armpits and a spot of toothpaste pooled on the bottom of our shirt. We may in actuality have looked pretty scary, but we felt great and so acted great and happy all day. We were at our best even if an outsider would say we looked our worst.

In contemplating the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ this Easter Season it struck me how when things look bleakest, those are often the most significant and important moments. By all accounts on that morning of the third day, Satan had won. No one’s sins were forgiven, and everyone was doomed to be apart from God and with Satan forever in the torment of Hell. The women walking to Jesus’ tomb were in mourning for their dearest friend. They were shocked to find that he was alive. Jesus was alive again after suffering the punishment of God’s wrath in our place. He took on our sin and gave us his holiness, his perfection, and his death was his finest moment, even though an outsider would have said it looked like he failed. But he didn’t fail; he rose again, conquering, death, sin, and the Devil all in one fell swoop.

If it’s ironic that we often feel at our best when often we actually look laughable, how much more fascinating is it when we feel at our worst. Some days, nothing seems to go right. We are crabby, we snap, we burst into tears, and we make one mistake after another and by the end of the day we wonder if there’s anything lovable or even likable about us at all. For Christians, we fill those times with the comfort that God always loves us no matter what. Still, we may feel we failed, as people, as Christians, as witnesses of that love. Sometimes when we feel at our worst, sure, it’s true, but sometimes we feel at our worst, but realize later that we may have been at our best. We may have been crabby yet brutally honest with someone who needed to hear the truth. We may have smiled in solidarity with someone else who was also having a bad day. Ever think you gave an awful performance or speech and everyone else thinks you were great? We scratch our heads at that, right? What are other people seeing that we don’t see?

The truth is, as much as we know ourselves, we don’t know ourselves very well. The picture of ourselves in our heads is a far cry from what others see. And, generally, that’s a blessing, for other people are far kinder to us than we are to ourselves. For Christians, God uses us as our weakest moments to shine brighter in his name, because it’s all not about us, but that wonderful salvation. And those moments that are the hardest, those times when we are really struggling, those are the times we grow the most as people.  Those are the times we learn the hard lessons and we learn the truths about love and live.  We don’t know it at the time, of course, and later on we discover we’ve grown gorgeous butterfly wings and think, how did I get here? How did God get me here? And sometimes we realize it was those dark moments, and sometimes we never know when it was that we grew.

For myself, those times when I’m feeling down and I’m definitely not at my best and I’m stalling with writing, I find myself thinking about how it’s always darkest before dawn. My prayer is that in the moments of despair, God will push me to hope. And I do find that after a time of heartbreak or melancholy, my mind is more focused, my story ideas brighter. I don’t always notice it, but when I really think about it, when things are going well, I don’t work as hard, I don’t try as hard, and I become soft and slothful. If it weren’t for the dark times, I wouldn’t be writing at all. The joy of anything in life, especially Easter and the Resurrection shines out the brighter because there’s something to contrast it against. I have to wonder if that’s why God started it all in the first place. I mean, he knew we were destined to sin, to go against his will and holiness, but he loved us so much and maybe loved that contrast that at once makes human life so perilous and so precious, that he found it worth it to create us, that it was better to create us with both the peril and preciousness rather than not create us at all. That it was better to have to face the suffering of the cross for our sake rather than face nothing at all.

Yes it’s darkest before dawn and sometimes it seems like dawn will never come, but sometimes dawn comes so slowly it creeps up on us and one day we stop and think, “hey, I’m happy!” Life is so miraculous and ironic and such an adventure. Just when we think winter will never end, the earth shakes off its slumber and teems with new life. Just when we think we hit rock bottom several fathoms ago we come to find that we helped someone without knowing it, or inspired someone, or wrote all our tearstained poems in perfect iambic pentameter. Life’s kind of exciting because we actually don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. We don’t know what we are capable of until put to the test. It’s at once terrifying and fascinating, and even in those moments when we really, truly fail or behave awfully, we take it to heart and learn from it whether we want to or not.

Happy Spring, Happy Easter. When you think you look your best, don’t forget to check your teeth and when you’re at your worst remember that butterflies have those beautiful wings from struggling out of that binding cocoon. Without that struggle the butterflies would be fragile and weak, with it their wings are strong and they can fly out in to the world and beautify it. Without the cross, Jesus couldn’t have given us salvation and eternal life. Anything worth having comes with struggle. This is the tightrope we walk in this world of sin.

Romans 5:3-5 says: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (NIV)

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