the secret to staying where the light is: thoughts on shame, guilt, and grace

Today the gloom of the dust-colored sky is as palpable as the heat of my coffee mug, which brings warmth on such a dark, damp day. In contrast, the café at which I presently sit is luminous with its dangling lamps, bright signs, and colorful paintings. On a less cloudy day, the man-made light in this café would seem a cheap imitation of the sun’s rays on the outside of the glass. But on this day, being on the inside of the window means being where the light is. I am on the winning side today.

When I walk into my dark living room at night, the first thing I search for is a trace of light to guide my steps so I can turn on a lamp and shed more light in the room. If there is no light inside, I leave the door cracked so the exterior lights can help me find my way to another light source. When I am anticipating prolonged darkness, I generally carry a flashlight to guide me from one point of light to another.

Though it is a trivial observation, this idea of contrasting light has the gears of my mind turning. When presented with darkness, I always gravitate to the point with the most light. It is my nature to choose sight over blindness. I know that when I walk in the dark, it is easier to stumble over unseen objects. I know that when I venture out into the unknown without any light to guide me, my proclivity to clumsily trip over objects visible in daylight triples when I cannot see them under cover of night.

Yet when I find myself falling into spiritual darkness, rather than running towards the great Light of the world, I tend to shrink back in the shadows of shame, guilt, and regret. I prolong the darkness by my unwillingness to embrace the great Light set before me, choosing, instead, to cling to sin and shame, which not only keep me in bondage to their power, but also make everything else around me seem like a threat to my very existence.

This is contrary to my nature. I am designed to desire sight, life, light, and freedom from fear. But when I become entangled in sin and shame, my vision is warped to see darkness as my comfort rather than my captor.

Children ask for night lights because a hint of light in a dark room dispels the imagination’s notion that every shape is a monster, plotting a silent attack. We use flashlights so that we can see the path before us and avoid obstacles that could cause us to stumble and fall. So why is it that when we drift from God and begin to feel conviction, we often run deeper into the darkness rather than towards the hint of light inviting us to leave the darkness behind?

In Ephesians, we are instructed, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8) But what does it mean to be “light in the Lord?” How can I walk as a child of light when temptation threatens, sin strangles, and the world beckons me deeper into the depths of its depravity? Fortunately, Ephesians does not leave us without further instruction. The writer goes on to say:

“(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,  for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,     

and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

~Ephesians 5:9-14

Here, we are not only told to pursue light over darkness, but we are told that when we do, our lives will bear the fruit of this – “all that is good and right and true.” We are told to EXPOSE the works of darkness rather than engage in them. And guess what? When we expose that which is done in secret, those hidden dark pockets of our lives, that sin loses its power. We know this from Scripture, but I also know this from my own life. For a long time, I allowed myself to be deceived by the darkness and it imprisoned and shamed me and out of guilt and fear, I was driven deeper into the darkness rather than toward the life-given Light our Redeemer offers. When God prompted me to bring it into the light, the stronghold lost its power.

Ephesians 5:15-18 goes on to tell us to make the BEST use of time – cautioning us that we live in evil days. We are called not to be foolish, but to “understand what the will of the Lord is. We are called to “not get drunk with wine” but to be “filled with the Spirit” – choosing the lasting life of God over the empty promises and false fulfillment the world offers.

But it is the last part of this portion of Scripture that really grabbed my attention. We are told we should also be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-21)

So that is it?

To stay in the light means to breathe Scripture into one another’s lives? To sing songs of praise with one another? To lift up a sweet melody of praise not with our words or music, but in our hearts by continually giving thanks ALWAYS – in every circumstance – for EVERYTHING to our Heavenly Father? To submit to each other – perhaps by confessing our sins to one another and keeping each other accountable to revering and treasuring Christ?

Could it really be that simple? That by treasuring Christ, we might continually treasure Christ and therefore, continually stay in the light?

In my moments of retreating to the darkness rather than running into the marvelous light which Christ has set before me, I have elevated my selfish pleasure over the majestic person of Jesus Christ. When we neglect to treasure Christ, we choose instead to hoard the darkness. And we are left feeling empty, afraid, malnourished, and alone. It is only by running to Christ to free us from our prison of darkness that we can know the joy that has been set before us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So where are you these days? Do you find yourself retreating to the darkness of self-indulgence, self-pity, fear, and shame? Or do you desire to cast off the darkness and live as children of light?

I am drawn to these lyrics, by Tammy Trent, and pray that they would also speak to your heart:

Welcome Home My mercy’s waiting
Welcome Home to open arms
There’s no shame in your returning
Though you may have wandered far
Welcome Home.

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