Finding the light in my darkness: A Christmas reflection

Where I live, it is dark by 4 in the afternoon come December. As a child, like many children, I was afraid of the dark. So my siblings and I greatly appreciated it when Dad hung Christmas lights in our bedroom during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Snuggled under the blankets in our bunk beds, we fell asleep in the midst of twinkling lights of all the colors. Both the light and the reminder of our father’s love were comforting to us.

Children are afraid of the dark because it cloaks the unknown. Who knows what scary creatures lurk in unseen corners? As adults, we continue to fear the unknown. However, the scary creatures look more like the threat of war, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, the pervasiveness of an illness, or the failure to live up to expectations. We tiptoe hesitantly through our own personal darkness, tempted to hide under the blankets while also longing for someone to illuminate the way.

But someone is willing to light the way through the darkness! Our heavenly Father deeply loves each of us, and he does not want our fear to cloud our faith. He sent his son to illuminate the way through the unknown so that we may live with him. Jesus told us: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Jesus is our light in the darkness. He walks with us, guiding and reassuring us through our fears. So, for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, dark December is an appropriately symbolic time to celebrate the birth of the light of the world!

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Like everyone else, I have gone through my own periods of darkness, clinging to Jesus for consolation in the midst of my sadness and fear. Last December was one such time. I had been a novice in a religious congregation but was sent home for medical reasons right before Christmas. I was grieved. I thought I had somehow lost my vocation, and I blamed myself for it. Useless “what if” questions went through my head, as if I had any control over what had happened. I thought I had failed my religious community, failed my supportive family and parish back home, and failed myself. Most of all, I felt that I had failed God. I thought he had called me there to be consecrated to him, and now I was being asked to leave. What had I done wrong? Was God displeased with me?

I was also afraid of the future. Since I had given everything away before entering the convent, I had no money, no job, no clothing. At the time, I was also too sick to support myself. What would I do? I should not have worried, for God moved people around me to take care of everything. The religious congregation generously kept me on their health insurance for a while. My wonderful family was very supportive; my parents welcomed me back into their home with open arms, and my siblings shared clothes with me. My former parish even took up a collection for medical expenses. I am so grateful to them all.

Every year during Christmastime, my family visits the La Salette shrine in Massachusetts, which is about an hour or so from our house. During the Advent and Christmas seasons, the shrine is decorated with thousands of lights. Last December, I was home in time for my family’s yearly pilgrimage to La Salette. We arrived in the late afternoon, so we could be present when the lights were turned on. That moment is always impressive! One moment, you are standing in semi-darkness in the parking lot. The next moment, you are surrounded by twinkling lights of every color that fill the trees, circle the Rosary Pond and encompass Nativity scenes from around the world. Carols such as “O Holy Night” and “Joy to the World” are broadcasted over the intercom. It is beautiful and has always been one of my favorite places. This particular visit was my first time back since entering the convent, and I enjoyed once again slowly walking through the shrine with my family. Near the church, white lights proclaimed Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world.” In the midst of a pandemic, political unrest and violence, the world needed that reminder more than ever. In the midst of my personal sadness and fears, I also needed that reminder in a new way: that no matter what happens, Jesus Christ is in control. He illuminates our darkness.

It took several months for me to let go of my fears and trust God’s guidance in the midst of the unknown. God had to give me several reminders about who was in control, who was the light of the world, before I could forgive myself for “failing” as a religious sister. In fact, it wasn’t until I was lying in a hospital bed that I accepted how this experience was an opportunity to start over, to pick up the pieces of my life and allow God to use them as he willed. He was not displeased with me. On the contrary, God loved me and was guiding me every step of the way. I began to look toward the future with hope again, and, finally, the darkness began to dissipate. Following Jesus even while facing the unknown, I was not walking in darkness, but in his light that gives life. If you are going through a time of darkness right now, I hope you, too, will discover his light illuminating your way, step by step.

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