There’s a picture I can’t shake.
It came to me in that undefinable space between deep sleep and the wakened world. At first I thought it was a dream until I realized it was more of a scene, a striking, sober moment that refused to fade. It’s remained with me ever since.
I am standing in an intimate cave, whose floor and ceiling are curved or carved to my exact size. No need to hunch here, but there’s also not much perceivable room to stretch. But therein lies the real issue in this scene: perceivable room. I am standing in this intimate cave with a single votive in my hands, making it impossible to see beyond the immediate in any direction—up or down, left or right, forward or backward.
That’s it. That’s the entire scene: a man with a small candle in a cave. There’s no movement or motion. There’s no story to be told. It’s a single shot, except it feels alive, with flickering flame. It also comes with an intensity of emotion.
As I was holding the votive in the scene, I remember waking up with the realization that I was angry at first. Or maybe I dreamed this part. Either way, it’s a part of the overall package, one emotion giving way to another as the scene remains the same. Back to my anger. I was angry at the darkness, that it was hiding everything from me, that I couldn’t see where I was going. I was angry at the dreamed-up darkness for the same reasons I’m angry at the present darkness.
Anger eventually faded into something else that’s grown precious to me: a love for the votive. When I woke up, I remember thinking that my emotion was a choice: I could be angry with the darkness for not being able to see the way ahead of me or I could be thankful for the votive. And it was gratitude that won out.
I could not see ten steps ahead, but I could take the next one.Matt Conner
After all, without the votive, I would not be able to see anything at all. If I thought the darkness had a real hold in this scene, then I clearly wasn’t thinking of life without the votive. It wasn’t even a real candle, but just one of those temporary candles intended to last only long enough to conduct the event, the gathering, the dinner intended for that evening and nothing more. Which meant that the man in the cave didn’t have long to enjoy the light. That made me angry.
However, at that point, I realized just how beautiful it was to even have that votive. While there was no long-term understanding of direction or goal, there was, at least, light for the present moment. I could not see ten steps ahead, but I could take the next one.
These last several months have been a personal hell in many ways, a time when personal and professional things have all turned toxic and taken hold. It’s been a time of testing, of asking “How long, O Lord?” and waiting for an answer. More than anything, I’d prayed and longed for an escape, a way out of the places I’ve been, questioning why I’m even here in the first place. This sort of season will typically force a person to make a decision to escape the tension. For me, I’ve simply given in.
As I’ve allowed circumstances to play out around me despite my fears and frustrations and, most importantly, my belief that I couldn’t endure any more, I’ve felt the amount of light I have isn’t nearly as much I would like. I have also, however, eased into a grace for the light I’ve been given, grateful that at least I can see enough to take that next step. Moving beyond the initial anger, I’ve found joy in the freedom of not having to know the road ahead. What once was an uncomfortable future has now become a peaceful present (and presence).
None of this happened due to conscious choice. It was the grace of God that provided me with a lasting image, one that originated in rest and now lives with me in wakefulness, a referenced scene that speaks to me the choice I continue to have each day. I am thankful for just enough light to take the next step that seems right and good. Anything beyond that is total darkness.
I’m finally all right with that.
Matt Conner is a former pastor and church planter turned writer and editor. He’s the founder of Analogue Media and lives in Indianapolis.