As daylight seems to be breaking on my long, dark night, I have been taking some moments to look back and reflect on a few things about all that has happened — my responses to the chaos, my emotional spirals, my relationship with God, and especially my trust in all things Yahweh.
Take that last one in particular. During my dark night, at times my trust in God was definitely strained, uncertain. This issue often came up in my prayers. More often than requests for justice over wrongs done to me, or for a miracle check from heaven to pay off my debts and bail me out of my circumstances (though I did pray for both of those things, believe me), my prayers leaned toward a plea to know the future.
Typically God doesn’t reveal many details about each person’s individual future. But in my own case, when life sucked, I often wished he would. And during my long, dark bouts of depression and uncertainty, I often heard myself pray a silly prayer: “Lord, let me see five seconds of my future—any five seconds at all. Just let me see that there will be an end to this nightmare.”
My prayer was born of desperation – desperation to know whether things would ever change, whether there was something – anything – to look forward to. Metaphorically speaking, for years I felt adrift at sea, with every land-sighting turning out to be a mirage – taunting me, mocking me. I longed to know if I would ever make landfall again, or if the drifting would go on forever. I longed for the darkness to end.
“Lord, let me see five seconds of my future.” An irrational prayer? Definitely. Because which five-second moment in the future would he show me? A really good one? A really bad one? Would seeing it ease my anxieties about the future, or stir up more of them?
But thankfully, when we pray, God hears our need – not our rationality. He knew my prayer was like the plea of an injured child: “Daddy, make the hurt go away.”
And I began to notice that he did answer me. The answer I heard was always the same: a verse from Psalm 119 – the longest poem in the Bible: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Not very specific. No details about the future. And definitely not the revelation I was seeking.
Yet during those long years of darkness, I had plenty of time to think about it. And I realized that for someone like me, in the middle of a “dark night” experience, that verse was very appropriate.
I came to understand that the “lamp for my feet” is not a high-powered flashlight, shooting a beam far into the distance. It doesn’t show me every perilous ledge, rushing river, or wild beast awaiting me up ahead. Instead it’s more like a lantern with a soft orange glow, illuminating only my immediate surroundings. It provides enough light to keep my next step safe. Beyond that, however, there is still darkness. And there’s no promise of future knowledge – only “your word.”
What is that “word?” To David, it was the Law of Moses – the first five books of our current Bible. To contemporary Jews, it is the whole Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). But to Christ-followers, it is much more: it is the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Christ himself, the living word. He is the lamp for our feet and the light to our path. For the light of that word to guide me to safety, I must constantly meditate and depend upon it—upon him.
If we pull back from that verse and consider the rest of Psalm 119, this whole poem is unified by a single theme: the word. And within that theme is the continual plea for understanding. Because in Psalm 119, deliverance from darkness comes through a deeper understanding of God’s word.
In the last stanza of Psalm 119, David prays:
May my cry come before you, Lord;
give me understanding according to your word.
May my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise. (Psalm 119:169-170)
During my deepest darkness, the silly prayer I mentioned was met with a verse promising light to guide me through it, one step at a time. I was never shown the outcome of my journey in any detail. Instead I was given just enough light to keep me from stumbling or straying off the path. But that light came by hanging on to the written word of scripture, and also the living word – Christ, the light of the world, who will lead me safely down the path.
Through the darkness.