Recently, I have been thinking about being in the dark, both the literal darkness of short days and the figurative darkness of uncertainty and worry. That’s because I just read Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark. In it, she describes how we are taught to fear the dark, and how she was always afraid of dark rooms or being outside long after dark. For her, darkness is also about existential doubt and the fear of death.
I was very afraid of the dark when I was a young child. (This may be due to my sister, who shared a bedroom with me. She would frequently reach over and poke me lightly when I was asleep, and when I started awake and asked what had happened, she would say, “It wasn’t me. It must have been the bogeyman.” It would be hard for me to get back to sleep.)
Scarred by these early traumas, I remained afraid of the dark until my tenth year. In that year, my oldest sister went to college, and so I was moved into the large bedroom she had shared with Sister #2, who had less sadistic teasing methodologies. Unfortunately, this bedroom was at the other end of the house, very far from my parents’ bedroom and the kids’ bathroom. So if I was up in the middle of the night, I had to walk the length of the dark house.
At first, I could not do it without frantically rushing through a room to turn on the lights, and then rushing through the next room to turn on the lights, and so on until I made it to the other end of the house. Finally, I decided that I was too old to fear the dark. One night, I forced myself to walk the length of the house in the dark. My heart thumped my chest from fear, and I was breathless when I made it to the end.
A few attempts later, I became accustomed to the dark and overcame my fear. In fact, I learned to love the dark. I learned to lean into the space in front of me and to sense where furniture and doorways were, and I trusted that all was essentially well. This training has served me well during other dark moments in life, when the situation was seemingly desperate.
Fearing the dark and uncertain times simply causes fear upon fear, anxiety upon anxiety. The reading from Philippians this week says, “Dismiss all anxiety from your minds; instead, present your needs to God through prayer and petition.” Learning to walk in the dark has taught me to dismiss worry with a sense of trust. It has taught me to lean on God’s guiding—and goading–presence in uncertain times.