This past summer while I was visiting family in Alabama, I decided to take my kids to DeSoto Caverns for a day trip. To my delight, my parents and my brother’s family joined us that day. I had toured the caverns as a child and remember being awestruck by the stunningly large chambers, mysterious tunnels, and bizarre cave formations—all hidden beneath the earth in what is otherwise the unobtrusive landscape of central Alabama woodlands and farms.
The features of the cave still impressed me as an adult, but the experience I found most powerful was when the tour guide turned out the lights and we were all immersed in total darkness. Total darkness is a disorienting experience. Our eyes are meant for light. They long for it, strain for it, and when faced with its complete absence, the mind begins to doubt what it knew to be true mere moments before: Are my eyes open? Are my hands by my side? Is my father sitting next to me? Is that my daughter’s feet shuffling?
More time passes. My pupils grow large but still find nothing. The darkness has enveloped my whole world. My mind yearns for the safety and comfort of the light, and my imagination begins to rove. I wonder if I could make it out of the cave alone in this darkness. Would I remember the way, or would I stumble and perish in some dead-end hole? What would happen if I lost hold of my child? How did generations before me—the Cherokee warriors, Confederate soldiers, and intrepid explorers—navigate this uncertain terrain without light bulbs and battery packs?
The guide flips the light back on, and color, shapes, my family, my world, my way out reappear. They were all there, the whole time, in the dark.
The experience, I find, is not new to me. It seems the story of my faith. There is a reason I regularly listen to a beloved song by Mumford and Sons, in which Marcus Mumford sings out, imploringly:
And oh, hold on to what you believed in the light,
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight.
Although God’s vision goes far beyond the visible spectrum, he knows how disorienting the dark is for us. He knows how quickly it can cause us to doubt his goodness and his promises, how quickly a marital conflict, a job loss, a devastating diagnosis, a mental illness, a wayward teen, or an unexpected death can leave us reeling. In three of the Scripture readings for this Sunday, we are reminded to hold on to hope while we remain in the darkness. Consolation, joy, gladness, light, and laughter await us: The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy (Ps 126:3). When blind Bartimaeus’ vision is restored, it is the face of Christ he first sees. I like to think that in his years of darkness, Bartimaeus held firm in his faith to the promises spoken by Jeremiah:
Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble (Jer 31:8-9).
The blind, the lame, the mothers, and those with child—it seems an odd grouping, but are not we mothers, like the blind and lame, ever yearning for clarity of vision, ever longing for a clear, level road by which to accompany our children? God knows the heart and the tears of mothers, and he promises consolation and guidance. Lean into that promise. Lean in, mama. He is here beside you in the dark, and he will do great things.