Nicholas* had avoided me for weeks. Then all of a sudden he insisted on getting together ASAP. When he finally sat down opposite me, he was almost out of breath. He couldn’t look me in the eyes at first, but immediately his words starting tumbling out of his mouth. Tears streamed down his face.
After a particularly upsetting relapse into an old, hated pattern of behavior, Nick was visibly shaken. He was terrified at the power of the temptation and at his own weakness. Yet, what he hated the most was the horrible effect his sin was having on him. Suddenly the right words came to him:
“It sucks the light out of my being and fills it with darkness.”
Each of us has our own weak spots and pockets of darkness in our life. Some of us nurture envy or jealousy. Others are blinded by greed, self-justification, or delusions. Sometimes we comfort ourselves by fantasizing revenge; filling our eyes, hearts and minds with lust; seeking to feel powerful by being cruel; or by exploding in rage. Even more tragically, sometimes we actually wind up hurting, abusing, or deliberately exploiting others.
We may hate being in the darkness, and we may even despise ourselves for our weaknesses and failures. Yet, in the midst of daily anxieties, pressures, and temptations, slipping back into the darkness can be almost effortless. As our sight dims, we may even become more resistant to the light, or forget how much we have lost along the way.
My own tendency to drift into darkness is one of the main reasons I periodically set aside time to fast and pray. I don’t usually like fasting, but I like what God does in me through it.
Fasting helps me to focus interiorly, and to listen more closely to the Holy Spirit. God often reassures me that I am deeply loved and that I belong to God. In the presence of Christ’s light, sometimes I also see better my emptiness, my resistance, my lack of integrity, and the darkness that still grips me in secret places. I also find greater power to let go of sin, and greater motivation to seek the Light.
In fasting and extended times of prayer, I suggest the following:
• Give up two or three meals and drink only water (or juice if need be) all day.
• Use the meals times to read Scripture, journal, and pray alone.
• Set your intention to create extra space for the Holy Spirit to shine the light of Christ into your dark places.
• Ask the Spirit to help you to see what you have been having a hard time facing, and to rekindle your love and longing for Jesus and others—and maybe for yourself, too.
On the road to Damascus. Jesus said to Paul, “I will [send] you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:17-18, NRSV)
No matter how strong we may think we are, we are all capable of self-deception and great sin. Yet, by reaching out to Jesus Christ in faith and earnestness, the Holy Spirit may very well send a powerful, piercing, cleansing, and renewing light that frees us from the various ways that Satan has a hold in our lives.
It’s not a magic solution. We are not completely transformed for all time. And an experience with the Light does not replace the role we can play in avoiding sin the next time. Yet, by continually seeking the Light of Christ, the Holy Spirit will expose the lies we cling to, and drive our darkness away. With clearer heads and humbled hearts, we usually know what we need to do differently next time to avoid getting so consumed by the darkness, and to stay in the Light. Then it is up to us to act on the truth.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7, NRSV)
The Point: The real question for spiritual growth is not, “How dark is your darkness?” Rather, it is, “How much do you want the Light?” If you want it, you can have it. But you can’t produce it on your own. Only the Holy Spirit can pour Christ’s light into your inner being and consume your darkness…. Is it time for you to set aside a day for fasting and prayer?
Prayer: “Lord, please help me to see what I need to see, give me courage to face the truth, and strength to act on what you reveal.”
* In order to protect confidentiality, “Nicholas” is an amalgam of various individuals I have worked with over the years. Yet his situation is very true to the experience of countless sincere Christians I have known.