I don’t try to lead a dangerous, on-the-edge kind of life. I’m more of a play-it-safe, eat-your-veggies, go-to-bed-at-8:30 kind of girl. But sometimes I find myself on the brink of disaster anyway. Last night was one of those times.
I lead a writer’s group at my church on Wednesday nights. These people are my tribe. They get me; most of us writers are reserved on the outside, dangerous on the inside. We might write about skydiving off a cliff or midnight-murder-hide-the-body-in-the-graveyard stuff, but we would never actually do those things. I hope.
After my writer’s group, I go to choir practice. Sounds pretty harmless, right?
We let out of class a little late, so I wanted to get to choir as quickly as I could. There’s a long, dark hallway in our church that connects the writer’s group building to the choir room building . . . but since it was late, all the lights were turned off. But I know my way around my church, so I figured I could find my way in the dark.
What was I thinking?
I wasn’t thinking, that’s what.
The tunnel, I mean hallway, was pitch-black, even with windows. It was already dark outside, and the cloud cover concealed any moonlight. But it’s a straight hallway that leads all the way across to the second floor of the sanctuary.
That’s right. The second floor of the blacker-than-black sanctuary. By the time I realized I was stuck at the top of stairs I had no way of finding, I was in a pretty compromising place. It was just as dangerous to travel back through the creepy dark tunnel as it was to grope for the elusive stairs.
My writer’s imagination took over, and I pictured Freddie Krueger lurking in the shadows. I know I was in God’s house, and the Holy Spirit was there to protect me. But God loves Freddie too, and what if Freddie decided to make a life change and come to church, but then the smell of my fresh blood proved to be too much of a temptation for him and sent him over the edge, to my demise? He’d be right there in a holy place, and could repent of his sin. But I’d still be dead.
Or what if I missed the fact that I was at the top of the stairs, and fell down and broke my neck, and nobody in the world knew I was there until our poor maintenance crew showed up in the morning to find my cold, lifeless body?
I really need to make an appointment with the pastor, to request some motion-activated lamps in there or something. I try to be the light of the world, but unfortunately my particular light doesn’t help much in the inky black of the sanctuary.
I put my back against the wall and scooted, inch by inch, all the way around the balcony. I nearly lost my life once when I scooted into the stairway that leads to the foyer. But I didn’t need to go to the foyer, and somehow I trudged past the opening to a little cove that had three blind-covered windows. I fumbled and found the rod to open one set of blinds. More fumbling, and I found the string to lift another set. Halfway up, and they went crooked on me. But as I said before, it was nearly as dark outside as it was in the sanctuary, so I gave up. More scooting, and I found the first stair that led to the bottom floor.
I groped around, gripped the railing and took slow, wobbly steps, one inch, one step at a time until there were no more stairs. I shimmied along the wall until I found the exit, pulled open the door, and there was a bright light. I heard the choir singing from down the hallway. It was almost like entering the gates of heaven.
I was relieved, and more than a little stunned that I made it out of that place alive. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. To this point in my life, God has never let me down. He’s always been there to catch me when I fall, or at least soften the blow.
I’ve found myself in inky-black places in my life before. Times of despair, when all seemed lost and hope felt like little more than a cliché song lyric. In those times, I’ve pressed my back against the wall. Though I couldn’t walk, I shimmied, inch-by-inch through the days, in and out of weeks, past months. Somehow, I made it to a door, to a light, and found myself on the other side of the despair. And looking back—both to last night and to the other darknesses through which I’ve traveled, I realize I was never alone. There was always a gentle hand, leading me, guiding me, cushioning my steps.
Even so, I’m not going back through that tunnel again without a flashlight.
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine upon them,” Isaiah 9:2.