Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
This is true of my life, and for anyone living on this side of eternity, it is true of yours, as well. Either you’ve opened a box full of darkness, you’ve not discovered the gift in the box, or the day will come when such a box darkens your door. This article will pose more questions than answers, and I challenge you to contemplate each one in light of your own broken experiences and the gifts therein.
I hate having to admit how long I tightly clutched my box, opening it several times, somehow wishing its contents would change. And I think we all go through that phase to some degree – the denial, the desire to change the past, the refusal to move on. Heart Check: Are you stuck? Are you still peering deeply into your box, wishing the past were different, unable to make progress because you refuse to accept what life has sent your way? The writer of Jimmy Needham’s “Clear the Stage” said, “Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol.” Pain, too, can be an idol; the darkness can consume you if you let it. Have you given the box its own pedestal in your life, allowing yourself to act and react out of anger, hatred, or fear?
I know our human desire for control will make you want to kick against this next statement, but sit with it for a minute. Your worst relationships, your deepest hurts, your most shameful life experiences, more than any other moments, define your relationship with God. I did NOT say dictates or determines; I said DEFINES. The box full of darkness, whatever your box may be, serves to highlight some of the essential qualities of your relationship with God. Heart Check: Will you wrestle with God in the dark? Will you praise Him in it? Will you place your hope in Him despite the darkness? Will you so deeply desire He change your box that you miss God changing you?
In the darkness of our experiences, we are given a gift. The gift, of course, isn’t the darkness itself, but what we do with the darkness, with the initial pain, with the ensuing shame, the desire to blame. What happens to you in life isn’t what matters most; what matters most is what you do with what has happened – how you happen to life when life happens. I recently came across a comment from an individual who reported having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following an accident. He concluded that although the resulting PTSD stuck with him for at least 4 years, the accident instantly made him decide to never waste the gift of life, so he got both Post-Traumatic Stress and Post-Traumatic Growth. That accident became a defining moment for him.
By the same token, the person who injured us most, the events that have caused us the most pain, or have utterly broken our hearts absolutely define our relationship with God. These broken experiences give depth and breadth to the myriad of emotions and choices He’s given us the capacity to experience and express. Heart Check: Have you let God open the box with you? Have you immersed yourself more with the contents of the box than you have with Him? Have you passed the darkness on to others because you’ve failed to let God in, to let Him handle your darkness, or let Him handle you? For years I handed out boxes of my own unresolved trauma, boxes of rage, of unrepentant disdain, of bitter criticism that crushed, and scorched, and scathed. To whom have you dealt your unresolved darkness? Have you poured more of yourself into the box, unknowingly trying to fill a shattered cistern? Have you discarded it, never learning the gifts that it held? What have you done with your box?
Often, our box full of darkness is best opened in a safe, therapeutic environment with a trained therapist or like-minded friends whom God has commissioned to join us in dark places.