I didn’t sleep so great Sunday night.
I was up way too late (I blame Lisa Whelchel and the Survivor finale, at least in part), then felt way too wound up, and by the time I finally thought I might doze off, it was close to 1. But then I started to think about how I was only going to get X hours of sleep before the alarm beeped Monday morning, so I pretty much stressed myself right out of any opportunity for being rested.
Those are some first world problems, aren’t they?
But at some point in all my fitful sleep, I had a little snippet of a dream that I have not been able to quit thinking about for the last couple of days.
(By the way, I realize that the whole “let me tell you about my dream” approach rarely results in enthusiastic readers and/or listeners.)
(In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s right up there with “can you look at this sore on my face and tell me what you think it is?”)
(But just bear with me.)
In my dream, I was standing in our foyer, and when I looked out one of the sidelights, I saw our dog standing still as a stone in the driveway and barking her head off. That whole barking her head off thing got my attention, even in my dream, mainly because our dog is approximately 109 years old and hasn’t barked since 2007.
I walked outside, wondering what in the world was going on, and as soon as I got close to our dog, I was immediately aware of a feeling – a force, even – that I can only describe as utter darkness. It was palpable, the evil, and it was inching closer and closer to our house like a low-level, rumbling cloud. I felt cold chills run from the top of my shoulders down to my fingertips, and as I realized what was in front of me, fear took over. I immediately started walking backwards, trying to find my way back to the house so that I could slam the front door and lock myself inside.
But the dog wouldn’t come with me. She just kept barking. And as I stood inside the door and tried to call her away from the darkness, to convince her to come back inside where it was safe, I realized that my front door was a screen door – with part of the screen torn off in one of the corners. So I stood there, and I stared, and after a few seconds it dawned on me:
There’s no way to keep out the darkness. I’m in my house – where I should be safe – and I can’t keep out the darkness.
That’s the last I remember about my dream, but that feeling? That awareness that no matter where I go, I can’t escape the darkness?
That pretty much sums up the last few days for me.
And I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one.
There have been times, I guess, when tragedies have made me proactive, when I have walked around with a lot of plans to do a lot of things, when I have gone into action mode and just flat-out worked my way through my grief.
Not this one, though.
Not this time.
Because the slaughter of innocent children – the violent disregard for those sweet little lives – it’s almost unthinkable, isn’t it? I still haven’t completely wrapped my mind around what happened in Connecticut this past Friday, and I suspect I never will. Honestly, it seems beyond comprehension that an elementary school would be subjected to that level of terror and fear. We’re talking about kids who still can’t say their “th” sound, who lisp adorably when they say the word “Christmas.” We’re talking about little ones who start off the day by hugging their beloved teachers. We’re talking about precious sons and daughters who sip juice boxes and eat Goldfish and skin their knees on the playground.
Even still, a dark, low-level cloud of evil rolled into their school last Friday.
And despite their very heroic efforts, the administrators and teachers still couldn’t lock it out.
Neither can we, you know.
But I’ll tell you one thing: we can fight it.
I don’t have the gift of prophecy. Well, I mean, there was one time on The Real Housewives of Atlanta when I told Melanie that I really thought such-and-such was going to happen, and LO AND BEHOLD, IT DID. But besides that and the occasional ability to discern that there’s a Popeye’s in my immediate vicinity (in college I minored in Popeye’s chicken) (it’s a little known field of study), I’ve never really been one for reading too much into my dreams and whatnot. I just figure that Sunday night’s dream was a case where my subconscious was trying to process the thoughts that had been running through my head since last Friday afternoon.
But whether I’m awake or asleep, here’s what I can’t quit thinking about:
This world just seems to get darker. And darker. And darker.
And since that’s the case:
We’re gonna need a lot more light, y’all.
The interesting thing about watching any tragedy play out on social media is that after about fifteen minutes of collective grief and sympathy, the disagreements start. Newtown was no exception. And if you think that people weren’t airing their theological differences in the wake of 26 horrific deaths, then perhaps I should introduce you to the Twitter.
And as strange as this next sentence may sound, I’m going to say it anyway. As heavy as my heart is for Newtown, my heart is also heavy for the Church. I get that there is great diversity in the Body, and with that diversity come all sorts of doctrinal issues, all sorts of places where we can disagree. But when a lost and hurting and dark world is crying out for answers and for hope, that seems like an excellent time to call a time-out on the theological boxing matches that are so prevalent in social media these days. I’m not saying that the Arminians have to start planting churches with the Reformed folks, for heaven’s sake. The Pentecostals and the Lutherans don’t have to reach an agreement on election or baptism or anything else.
But I pray that we’ll do a better job of loving each other. Caring for each other. Looking out for one another. We have to do that within the Church so that we can be effective outside of it. I’m betting that some of you have been praying for the same thing. Because when the world hurts (which, by the way, is always), I think it’s good to remember that we’re not called to act like spoiled children who are more concerned with protecting our corner of the theological (or political) playground than we are with showing the love of Jesus to people who are desperate for Good News.
As believers, we have so many opportunities to love people well. To show them the grace and mercy of a loving, living God.
And I can tell you from experience what has never ministered to me, not even one single time in my whole life ever: watching Christians point fingers and fight among themselves.
The devastated people of Newtown, Connecticut deserve better than that. The victims of any tragedy deserve better than that. In fact, any person who is hurting or struggling for any reason whatsoever deserves better than that.
This world just seems to get darker. And darker. And darker.
We’re gonna need a lot more light.
I’ve mentioned before that my favorite Christmas hymn is Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. In the past it’s always made me think of the Christ child, a baby who is the Word incarnate, the Hope of the world, the fulfillment of what God promised His people.
But as Melanie wrote so beautifully earlier this week, “Jesus came in the form of a helpless baby, but he won’t come back that way. He’ll come as a conqueror.” And as I’ve listened to my favorite Christmas hymn this week, I haven’t thought about the baby in the manger as much as I’ve thought about our Conqueror King, the One who can – and will – vanquish that low-level cloud of evil as He ushers in a world that is completely free from sin, from evil, from darkness, from despair.
We don’t just have hope.
We have Hope.
And oh have mercy – I can’t think of a better time to share it.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.