Joy: All the Shadows in the Dark
-Rev Melissa Fain-
7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”
Luke 3:7-9 CEB
Most who knew me in high school would describe me as super bubbly, always at 1,000%. I was that girl in band camp that woke up singing "Rise and Shine." In my mind, I had to keep that level of enthusiasm. I knew the darkness way too early in life, and I wanted to paint the world in bright and bold colors. (When I wasn't terrified out of my mind to speak up at all.) My high school self had no contrast, only bright and happy.
You can't live like that. We are not built to be happy and only happy, so there were times I wasn't. I wouldn't call it manic depressive. My brain chemistry wasn't shifting between high and low serotonin. That wasn't it. but I was forcing myself to be something I wasn't in "front of the camera." The public had to see me as perfect. Foolish me couldn't understand that always upbeat can't be perfect, because it isn't real. When I was with those I thought I could truly trust, those masks fell, and I went in the opposite direction. I had to release that built up pain like water from a bursting dam. If you went to church camp with me, that's why I always cried. I trusted enough to make that a place where I could let go of all the built up pain. Either that, or I knew I wouldn't see anyone enough for it to take down the facade I had built everywhere else. It was also why I had those break downs at home. I trusted my family, until my high school step mom decided to share those meltdowns with church members. She was no longer allowed to truly see me.
What happened? Hard lessons. I could do everything right, and still not be liked. Also seminary. Seminary will lay you bare and force you to self-reflect. I saw my true nature. I was broken. Always being bubbly was my fear acting out in the world. I thought if everyone was happy, then that meant everything was good. Anything else, in my young mind, meant something wasn't fixed or right.
It was on a day I was looking at angel light. (Angel light is when the sun cuts through the clouds and sharp bursts of light band the skyline in brilliance.) I used to live for those moments on the road. Then a very grown up thought shot through me like that magical light:
That light is only understood because of the darkness surrounding it.
I already knew the good things in life felt so much sweeter and good when one already understood the bad things in life. I extended grace in abundant supply to the world, but could I give it myself? It was at that time the cloud moved, and the light disappeared. Then another thought replaced the last:
Shadows are signs the light exists.
How foolish had I been? What was I doing? No one, including myself, knew me! I needed to put the parts back together. I needed to be real, always. Then my honest self wouldn't always be bawling in a corner. I was brought low to look at the shadow. When the light shines, the shadows fall, and that's good. I could be that. In reality, that one day was the beginning tone for my personal call to ministry. I'm called to set contrast right, but I had to have contrast first. I had to see joy in the shadows first, before I could share it with others.
The shadows are the first sign that something good exists. The shadows should be celebrated, because it means light has entered the darkness, and the light cannot be covered over. Christmas is the celebration of the whole picture; not just the pretty portions, with the bad parts cut out. Advent (the weeks leading up to Christmas) is about preparing us for that acceptance. May we all have the courage to set aside our foolishness to bring true joy to Christ on Christmas morning.
Let us pray:
God of immense light, help us see you in the shadows, and understand how you are in all things, not just the things we deem "perfect." Amen.