I have never been a fan of darkness. As a young child, I’d ask my dad to check all the nooks and crannies in my room to be certain they were free from all things that lurk in the night. Grateful that a streetlamp shone outside my bedroom window, I often needed an additional night-light to chase away the monsters and shadows that were my companions until I fell asleep.
Now I was an adult. The shadows and monsters were real, and in my case their name was Alzheimer’s disease. Where was my night-light? Where was my streetlamp? I was unable to move because I couldn’t see where to go.
But this adult fear was different. I was not afraid of the monsters that were “out there” but of the monsters that were in me: monsters of inadequacy, the need to know the schedule, the need to control, the need to know the end of the story now, so I could handle the future.
Do you know a similar monster with a different name?
This darkness, this night, was something I could have done without, but here it was, and I was right in the middle of it. I wanted to believe that I would grow from this experience—even in the heartache of it all. I found myself wondering whether God would guide me through the dark, offer His grace, and show me His love.
Most caregivers I talk with cautiously shared the same concerns. Is God big enough to handle this? To have patience with us? Will He stand by His promise to never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6)? These are tough questions, and caregivers ask them in the dark. It takes time to understand and trust the darkness, to comprehend a God so big yet so personal, to open ourselves up to His grace and power. And it only happens when we let Him into our darkness and give Him permission to transform it into a “holy dark,” where He will grow and shape us, draw us close to Him, and send His light to guide us.
There is enough light to see the step in front of me.
The high school our son attended was a campus with several classroom buildings, some quite a distance from others. Prior to the first “Back-to-School Night,” all parents received a letter explaining the evening’s schedule. Two important instructions came at the end of the letter: (1) wear comfortable shoes, and (2) bring a flashlight. Odd instructions, I thought. That night, as we walked down dark paths, climbed narrow stairs, and maneuvered tricky passages, I was grateful I had followed instructions. What struck me the most was this: The beam of light from my flashlight was not enough to light up the entire campus, but it was enough to light the next step in front of me.
Henri Nouwen has good advice for all of us:
Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, “How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?” There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.6
The psalmist reminds us that God’s Word “is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). It was true on that back-to-school night many years ago, and it is true for us today, no matter in what season of darkness we find ourselves.
In the book of Joshua, we read how Joshua became leader of the Israelites. Moses had died, and a new leader was needed to guide God’s people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. God explained the details of their journey, and then He gave Joshua a command and a promise:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
Nowhere in this story do we read that Joshua told God he was afraid. But God knew. Caring for a loved one can be scary at times, and most of us have moments when we are afraid. I certainly did when caring for my husband who had Alzheimer’s. But God’s Word was true for Joshua, and it is true for us. This is a season that requires strength and courage. But it is also a season when God is with us wherever we go.
This excerpt is from In the Lingering Light: Courage and Hope for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver by Cynthia Fantasia.