I've been pondering shadows lately.
I grew up loving the 23rd Psalm and always thought the "valley of the shadow of death" (in verse 4) to be an eerie place filled with gray light, traversed with all muscles tensed, brightened only by the presence of God in the midst of our deepest or deadly troubles. I have walked through whole days, months, and unfortunately, even years in the shadowy gloom of my unreliable emotions, or shadowed indecision, or even with the shadow of a friend or loved one's death hanging overhead. I've spent much time just not knowing what to do, or say, where to go, how to get there, how to have joy, or just asking why. But I think there could be more to shadows than just bad.
After all, how would we define sunlight if we didn't have shadows to compare it to? How would we have shade if not objects in front of the sun? Or what about hiding - usually you pick the darkest, most shadowed spot when hiding from enemies. The philosophical content that lives in the mere topic of shadows and light is vast - too deep for me to attempt explanation of or even proper enlightenment with in just a whimsical blog post, but it's a subject I've been contemplating for some time.
George MacDonald said, "Afflictions are but the shadows of God's wings." Psalm 91 states that "he that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."
I am on an airplane.
Contrary to my blissfully uncontainable love for travel of all kinds, I hate flying. It terrifies me to be up so high and at the mercy of something as manmade and breakable as an airplane, not to mention the concepts of physics (that I don't understand) that are being employed, and the gravity that is being defied. My friend Jill sits next to me. I have volunteered the fact of my overwhelming fear of flight just minutes prior, out of sheer last minute panic before takeoff, and she has said she will hold my hand if I like.
We are speeding down the runway and my eyes are closed, my stomach turning, my hands tightly gripping the armrests. I feel the loss of control, the separation of wheels from the ground they were built to turn upon, as we are suddenly airborne. For a moment, as we gain altitude quickly, it feels as though the air is pressing down all around me, in uproar at the arrogance of man so nonchalantly mocking physical laws. The day is slightly cloudy. There is some turbulence as we push through the layers of cumulus and mile high fog, and I can see rays of light trying to pierce the cloud cover.
But then we break free of the gloom and I am suddenly enthralled by the brilliant sunlight, the bird's eye view, the shadow of the plane on a particular thick cloud just below. Another shadow. But different in every way, this. This is a shadow that serves to illuminate my location, high above clouds and turbulence, in a place of bright, uncorrupted beauty.
It's just a thought for today. Perhaps the shadows in our lives serve to further illustrate the light. Maybe we are meant to see trials and afflictions as simply a gray canvas on which Providence will paint in bright and lasting color.
Romans 8:28 is reassuring when I stand in a melancholy, dimly lit place, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose." No matter the shadow or the seemingly permanent gloom, there is a sparkle around the corner. There are muscles to be had in walking this dark place, and compassion and encouragement to be given to future friends in need of it. Unbelievably, there is gratitude that will pour involuntarily from my heart for every having gone through this valley - because I am stronger, wiser, and more effective from living through it. No matter the ingredients of the hostile air that surrounds me, there is grace available for me - I just need to breathe it in.
When I'm walking through a place of fear or uncertainty,and cannot remember what the warmth of light felt like, with whatever circumstances that may entail, I must remember that I'm also in a place of peaceful shadow, under the wings of my Heavenly Father, safe in His infinite care. I need not worry about the threat of destruction, the clouds of sadness and regret, or objects standing obstinately in front of the light, for they must ultimately serve His purpose in my story. Another part of Psalm 23, verse 6, promises that "surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
No matter the shadows, no matter the valleys, no matter the hopeless days and futile situations.
His goodness will have the last say in my life.