In the Pit

A dark pit

Anything can be true in the dark.

"For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit."    --Psalm 16:10

It was one of those difficult weeks. I was slogging through not just one but two painful anniversaries when the liturgy in church had me saying those words from Psalm 16. "Hrumph," I said to myself as the verse left my mouth. "Not true. I get dumped into the Pit with a rather alarming regularity." I'm sure it's a stretch to say I'm always totally faithful, but my many trips to what Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress calls the "Slough of Despond" still seemed totally unfair.

I sat with both the words of the Psalm and the pain of the week and remembered how it felt to be in the Pit--the agony that couldn't really be shared, the seeming absence of God, the darkness that seemed to swallow not only all light, but all sound. I could rage and scream and sob, but it would only echo through the dark cavern until my own ears accepted the sound back again, having found no outlet.

But then the words twisted in my head and I heard something different.  And what I heard was the difference between God allowing someone to be IN the Pit and God allowing someone to SEE the Pit, which is what the verse says.  And it hit me between the eyes that the complete blackout of the Pit might actually have been a blessing.

As frightening and overwhelming as the darkness was, perhaps it was a shield of sorts, leaving me free to imagine the hopeful instead of just the horrible. At some point we all have to face reality in order to find healing. But I think there are times and places where God gives us the blessing of the dark to cover that which we cannot yet bear to see and to give us the freedom to imagine something new.

Isn't that why darkness helps so much in storytelling? When the light is on and I look around me, I see the reality of what is. A bed. A chair. A desk. Closets with more clothes than I need; a rug with more dog hair than the dog has.  A story told in the light is only that--a story that happened to someone else who lived in a place that looked different than this. But when the lights go out, who's to say that everything hasn't changed? I might now live in a castle or up in the trees. My bed might be a berth on a ship in the high seas and the ghost of a drowned pirate might knock on my door any moment to tell me of sunken treasure. Who can say it's not so when the lights are out?

In the dark, I see only the stories of my heart. If my heart is fearful, I might see monsters in the closet and bogeymen under the bed. But if I can let go of the fear (a big "if" for me), I can tell myself other stories. I can fill the room with love and with magic and the desires of my heart. In the dark, a squalid hut can be a mansion, a sickly body can be full of youth and vigor, beasts can turn into princes, and the tomb that holds a dead body can turn up empty.

"For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit." As I thought about it, God never did let me actually see the Pit--at least not while I was in it. While I was there, God graciously closed my eyes and granted me darkness. I thought it was a curse at the time because I had so enjoyed the light. But God knew that light in the Pit would do more harm than good. With light in the Pit, I would see only the impossibly high walls, the drab colors that would weigh my spirit down, and maybe the depressing legacy of others who saw the thickness of the walls and fell into despair.

If I could see all that, I wouldn't be able to believe the stories God wanted to tell me. I would be certain they were only stories about others...others who weren't in the Pit. But in the forgiving dark, I could imagine that God's stories might really be about me after all. Stories of healing and change. Stories of abundant life. Stories of resurrection. Stories of people who begin in pits and go on to rule Egypt. In the dark, anything is possible.

At some point in your life--maybe now, maybe later--you'll find yourself in the Pit. It will be as dark down there as anything you have known, and you won't be able to see even the hand in front of your face. It is not punishment. It is grace. God has shut out the light and would like to tell you a story. Listen. Love speaks in the dark. When you are able to see again, you'll be free.

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