I’m spearheading an event at my church this week about faith in the darkness. We’re bringing in local author Addie Zierman to talk about what we do when God feels far off, whether it’s tragedy or hardship or just the malaise of daily struggles.
We’re in the midst of the bitter cold darkness of winter here in Minnesota, and while it’s starting to lighten up, this is a struggle we know all too well.
I’m a big fan of Addie’s debut memoir, When We Were on Fire, which chronicles her early love affair with evangelical culture (which I can relate to) and then her slide into adult faith—which included bouts of depression and near-alcoholism. I thought Addie would bring the ideal perspective of someone who understands that life isn’t about the ideal.
It all dovetails nicely with Addie’s new memoir, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. I finished reading it last week and loved how she’s still a mess. She’s still struggling with the darkness and most of the book is about her attempts to literally run away from it.
But she can’t.
And neither can we.
Case in point: Last week a woman from our church died unexpectedly. Margaret Ryther was 56, a mother of five and her youngest daughter was 16. She died in her sleep.
That was it. Just never woke up.
I knew Margaret best through our book club. Every other month a half dozen of us would gather at my house to talk about our latest book. Margaret was one of the faithful, always with an opinion or perspective to share, always with a passion for books.
She couldn’t make it to our last meeting in January when we talked about When We Were on Fire—her husband had been out of town and she felt she needed to stay home with her daughter (talk about a small moment that now feels very profound). But she gave us this impression of the book via email:
Am enjoying the book. We were the parents of kids during the 80s and 90s, but the home school version, which has its own bittersweet legacy. Funny thing is we were never very good at living up to the image and expectations, so even though I think we really wanted to be on the perfect Christian family bandwagon—it took much more energy than we had, and our efforts to control our kids to perfection, of course, backfired. Oh the things we learn and the price we and our children pay. So glad for a Redeemer who sees all our foolish strivings and still claims us.
When I initially planned this event, I was thinking about darkness more in just feeling lost in our faith. Not in any grand sense of loss or tragedy, but just in that way darkness can have an almost physical presence. The way sometimes our faith feels weak and empty, and we wonder what’s wrong with us.
I didn’t really think about the tragedy of death. I wasn’t thinking about husbands losing their wives or 16-year-old daughters losing their mothers.
I was thinking about depression, but not anything that depressing.
Turns out death is so common. Last week Addie also blogged about death, about driving down to her cousin’s funeral on Ash Wednesday.
And so even if we didn’t think it was that dark, it is. Life haunts us. Friends struggle with divorce or cancer or whatever tug of despair is pulling at them.
So I feel like this event is necessary more than ever. Surely every week at church we’re reminded about light overcoming the darkness. But sometimes it’s hard to translate that pew-side perspective to the rest of our lives.
It’s hard to recognize our “foolish strivings,” as Margaret said, and be thankful that our Redeemer claims us.
I’m looking forward to this event on Thursday. Probably building it up too much now, but even the act of pulling this together and pushing back against the tide of darkness feels like a necessary act, worthy in and of itself.
This is the work of the church.
God has a history of going quiet with his people. His silence stretches over years, over countries, over generations. But it’s not an abandonment, it’s an invitation. It asks something different of us than the fire does. It asks for our trust, for our hope, for us to stay as the night darkens around us and we can’t hear a thing. … Love doesn’t always look like romance and faith doesn’t always look like fire and light doesn’t always look like the sun—and that this matters. (Night Driving by Addie Zierman)