“Ever’ man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but ’tain’t easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life…” —Penny Baxter (from The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)
It’s a somber moment in The Yearling when Jody hears these words from his father, but the situation is bound up at the edges with love, knowing what we do about their relationship at this point in the book—how Penny anticipated the sadness his son would face and tried to head it off at the pass. Jody’s stubbornness kept him from receiving some of that care from his father, but it didn’t stop Penny from still being there for him in the end.
So, what do you do when you find yourself in Jody’s shoes, and all the sad things feel true? Do you have someone in your life who loves you like Penny Baxter? Someone you can reach out to, who will help you see more than what you’re feeling, who can point past all the dark clouds to a patch of clear light? There have been times in my life when I felt like I didn’t have anyone like that but Jesus, and while he’s absolutely the most valid voice one can listen to, there are also times when you’re so far down in life’s holes that it takes an actual physical hand to pull you out.
It may seem contrary to all the old hymns which tell us Jesus is all we need, but the truth of the matter is Jesus made us to need other people, too. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all be living on solitary planets with just ourselves and him?
The other truth I’ve learned over the years is that I’ve always had, and still do have, people I can call when I need that extra physical hand to hold onto in the dark places of life. God has blessed me with a caring husband, a thoughtful sister, and multiple friends over the years who love me enough to be there for me whenever I need them. The problem is that I don’t always let them know. When I’m in those closed off places, the thing that often suffocates me most is the shame I feel for having stumbled into them in the first place.
I’m a Christian, after all. That means I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, doesn’t it? I’m not allowed to feel forsaken and alone. I’m supposed to help other people find the light, and if my flashlight isn’t working anymore, then I must’ve done something wrong, right? Well, that’s what I call a spider web question, which of course needs a spider web answer, which I don’t really have time for in this post. So for now, let me say “maybe,” and then I’ll tell you what I usually do instead of sharing my hurt with other people.
I isolate myself. I turn up the sad songs and burrow into the corner and wait. Which doesn’t make things any better; and certainly isn’t helpful for those who love and need me. But alas, it’s what I do, and lately I’ve been wondering if there’s a way to break this bad habit so that it doesn’t lead to more shame and more isolation, and eventually (for me anyway) depression.
What if I stopped stuffing? What if I no longer kept all my feelings to myself? Introversion is my tendency, but melancholy doesn’t have to be my choice. What would it look like for me to start an honest conversation with a helpful friend? I can tell you that there have been times when I recognized I was headed down a dark road and decided to call or text or email someone, but then I stopped myself, or else I did call, but I didn’t know what in the world to say and by the end of the conversation I was feeling worse than when I first called. How do you transition from small talk to something heavy? Isn’t it awkward sometimes to try to move the conversation away from what we’re comfortable with and admit to our friends that we just need them to listen for a minute?
A couple of months ago I was standing behind the merch table at an Andrew Peterson concert in Knoxville when he sang the song “Shine Your Light on Me,” and it had been one of those weeks when I’d wanted to make that phone call to one of my friends, but I didn’t. And I thought to myself this is exactly what I needed to tell my friends. Surely they would understand if I just played this song for them. But then again, calling a friend and just playing a song for them . . . well, that seems like it could be a bit awkward as well.
I understand and believe the truth behind the song. God has put people in our lives to be his own image bearers, and they have light to share with us when our batteries go out. The problem is that I don’t know how to apply that truth. The few times when others have helped me out of a dark place are just that—few. And it seems as though they came to me through luck.
But in reality it was God acting, in ways that I don’t always see. He’s provided help for me all these years I’ve been growing up, the same way that Penny did for Jody as he grew up that year. Yes, Jody faced hardship and loss. But he learned, just as all of us should, that when you’re thrashing around in the darkness, it’s best to ask for help. Better than trying to find your own way out of your problems, is the simple plea for someone to turn on the light. And in the end (I tear up just thinking about it) when Jody comes crawling home, Penny quotes from Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child…” demonstrating that he and Jodi now have a new language in common, one for those who’ve known and lived with sorrow. So now I’m wondering if perhaps it’s time for me grow up enough to begin to speak his language, one that’s built on humility.
The Yearling, AP’s music, and my struggle to be honest with other people about my heart. Is there some magical tap that will nail these three things to the same post? Well, it might seem a little awkward still, but here’s what I’ve come up with. Do you remember some of those trendy sayings we have in Christian culture, like “What would Jesus do?” and “Bless her little heart!” What if the title of Andrew’s song is a new one I can add to the mix, perhaps one that’s a little more sincere? I hereby propose “Shine Your Light on Me” as the newest addition to my holy lexicon—it even works if you make into an acronym: SYLOM, pronounced like that city in Arkansas where I used to go to church camp: Siloam Springs.
Maybe the next time I feel all alone on my own dark planet, I could text “SYLOM” to a friend and it would help to start a conversation that I very much need to have. And maybe the time after that it could be a shortcut my friend would immediately recognize, so that she prayed for me right away, then actually picked up her phone and called me to ask how I was doing. Wouldn’t that be humbling, but also adult-like at the same time?
On Andrew’s album, Light for the Lost Boy, the song immediately following “Shine your Light on Me” is “Carry the Fire” and I can’t help but think how well those two songs work together to paint a picture of what the body of Christ can look like here on earth. How beautiful a rendering of God’s design—where those who need help say so, and those who hear commit to caring in return. How bright that light might shine, even in our darkest places.