I’ve been chomping at the bit to turn on my Christmas lights ever since I put them up (see “Up On the Roof,” 11/15/2013). I usually don’t turn them on until Thanksgiving, if by some miracle I have them up by then, that is. Because Thanksgiving is so late this year, I decided November 25th, one month before Christmas, would be a good day to fire them up. So on the designated evening, I invited my children and grandchildren over for a “Lights On” ceremony. Before we turned on the lights, I talked to my grandchildren about how God gives each of us something like a flashlight before we come to Earth. I told them that this little light burns in each of our hearts, tells us the difference between right and wrong, and helps us see the way God would have us go. Then we all went outside, and I flipped the switch. The last part of our “ceremony” was the part the kids liked the most—hot fudge sundaes with Grandma’s homemade to-die-for hot fudge. (I’ve put the recipe on my “Just Stuff . . . .” page.)
I don’t know if my grandchildren will remember the message as much as the hot fudge, but the whole thing got me to thinking about the role of light, both physical and spiritual, in our lives. As I sifted through various thoughts and memories about light, a particular experience from my childhood made its way to the surface of my consciousness.
My parents owned a boat when I was growing up, and our family spent many happy, delightful days boating on the lakes and reservoirs in the surrounding area. One of our favorite places to go was Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border. Our trips to Bear Lake usually occurred in August because that was about the only time of year when the water was warm enough to comfortably swim in without a wet suit. Brief afternoon squalls were common, but the rest of the time was usually bright and sunny. In fact, in all of the trips we made, I remember only once when it rained all day. I don’t know if it was actually the only time it rained all day, or if I just remember it because of what happened.
The rain that day was drizzly, cold, and uncomfortable. Swimming in the lake or playing on the beach was out of the question, so we decided to take a trip to Minnetonka Cave near the town of St. Charles. Like other developed caves I have been in, the pathway and the various rock formations are lit by electric lights. On the day we went, however, the power was out so there was no electric lighting in the cave. Instead of closing the cave to tours, the ranger said he would take us through using only a lantern. Now that’s the way to tour a cave!
The tour is about a half-mile long and involves climbing up and down 444 steps (I googled it) and is not recommended for people with heart or respiratory conditions. I only mention this because is it an important part of the story. There were several others with our family on the tour, one of whom was a woman with just such conditions. We had gone a ways into the cave and climbed up some of the 444 stairs when this woman decided she just couldn’t go any farther. As there was no lighting other than the lantern the forest ranger was carrying, going back on her own wasn’t an option (although I don’t think he would have let her go on alone even if the lights were on). That left her just two options—continue with the group or sit on a nearby bench to wait while the rest of the group continued to the end of the trail and returned to her location. She decided to wait—alone and in the dark.
In every organized cave tour I have been on, there has been a point where the guide turns out the lights so you can experience just exactly how dark caves truly are. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face; it is a darkness that is palpable. As we were about 30 minutes into the 90 minute tour when the woman decided to stay behind, I would guess she sat there, alone in the dark and cold (the temperature in the cave was about 40°), for at least 30 minutes until the rest of the group returned. I was only about nine or ten years old at the time, but even at that young age I recognized how disconcerting it must have been to be in that inky, absolute darkness for any length of time.
The other thing I remember about that outing was that on the way back to the mouth of the cave, my sister and I decided it would be fun to run out ahead of the group as far as we could until we reached the outer edge of the lantern’s glow. I am sure we were giving the forest ranger heart palpitations as we ventured further and further away from the group, but we thought it was great fun.
This experience has since become a symbol to me of the light God offers us in our “tour” of mortality. There is no electric lighting along our way, so if I am to see clearly where I am going, I must stay close to the One holding the lantern. There have been times when I seemingly have been emotionally and spiritually left sitting on that bench, all alone in the dark and cold. I say seemingly because I have learned over the years that, no matter how dark it seems, I have never been left utterly and completely without light. I have also learned that when I can’t see where the path leads, the best course of action is to stay safely on the bench and wait until the glow of the lantern once again brightens the way before me. Staying on the bench doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing; it means doing the things that I know will keep me safe until the light is sufficient to guide my feet. For me, those things include serving others to whatever extent I am capable of at the time, reading and pondering scripture, honoring the Sabbath, and, most importantly, constant prayer. Oh, there is one other essential bench-sitting pursuit—exercising faith that the light will return. That is, for me, is the hardest part.
There have also been times when I have tried to run before the light, times when I thought I knew where God’s path was leading me, or at least where I thought it should be leading me, and so ventured into the darkness on my own. The danger of going beyond the reach of the light is that our paths through mortality usually take twists and turns that we never imagined. Consequently, if I am impatient and try to get ahead of God’s light, I usually miss a turn and fall off the trail into who knows what kinds of trouble and difficulty. Thus, I have learned to follow the light rather than precede it. Believe me, it makes for a much safer and happier journey.
In His great love for His children, God’s lantern is always lit, but it is up to us to choose to open our eyes and look for its light. If we find and follow it, we will always be led safely home—where, hopefully, there will be hot fudge sundaes waiting for us.
Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_4101059_lit-lantern-on-dark-background-sepia-toned.html’>pshenichka / 123RF Stock Photo</a>