faith life coaching mindfulness

The Day Always Starts at Night

“Don’t you find it amazing, that the day always starts at night?” I wasn’t ready for the impllications of her question.

I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

“Don’t you find it amazing, that the day always starts at night?” She said it a bit tongue-in-cheek, like the folks who laugh at the fact that we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway. This time, however, it caught me off guard, and the depth of this statement nearly took my breath away.

The day always starts at night.

And it’s not just the day, all sorts of things begin in the dark. Giant oak trees start as just an acorn, veiled underground until new life bursts forth. Babies also begin in the darkness of the womb. Born of another tiny seed, they grow and develop in their mother’s tummy for nine long months before they ever see the light of day. I think Anne Lamott says it best, “Hope begins in the dark.”

As I read through the Bible, I find story after story of Hope that appears in the midst of the darkness. Whether it’s the woman who was caught in adultery, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lion’s den, or the man born blind, Light shows up when each of these characters reaches the end of their rope – the end of their hope.

Look at the woman caught in adultery, and the man born blind: one represents the way a person was made, while the other represents someone who made poor choices. The man’s physical blindness isn’t the focus; it could have been mental illness, chronic pain, an addictive personality, or something else. The adultery could have been cheating or abuse or child abandonment or any other “sin” you choose to fill in the blank. The point is that one was born this way, while the other wandered into the darkness of their own accord.

In each story, Light showed up.

Need another example? Look at my favorite story, the Prodigal Son. One son stays and follows all the rules. The other sticks his middle finger in his father’s face, takes the money and runs. Same family. Same father. And in the end, both children are embraced by the very same Love.

In moments of personal despair, the Bible mostly either confuses me or pisses me off. Sometimes, even during my years as a pastor, the only parts that made sense to me were the Psalms. I’m certainly no Bible scholar, but I think King David understood what it was like to live in all sorts of chaos. Look at this one, brief example:

I’m up against it, with no exit—
bereft, left alone.
I cry out, God, call out:
‘You’re my last chance, my only hope for life!’
Oh listen, please listen;
I’ve never been this low.

— Psalm 142:4-5

David was a royal screw up, but I believe he had genuine faith. Chapter by chapter, the rapist, and murderous King vacillates from hope to fear, doubt to certainty, anger to sadness, chaos to calm.

David’s journey is no different from our own. For me, Light showed up in the darkness of an ICU hospital room after I tried to die. Like the man born blind, I was born with a mental illness, making it hard for me to see the light of day. And like the woman caught in adultery, I made all sorts of bad decisions before my suicide attempt. But Hope is stubborn and showed up in the midst of my misery, whispering, “I’m not finished with you yet.”

What makes night within us, may leave stars.

— Victor Hugo

Each one of us, no matter our religion, is on a trip from darkness to light. Some make the journey in record time. Others stumble around in the shadows a bit longer than they must. But we’re all learning as we go. Each of us is figuring out how to stop shrinking back and start leaning into our own inner-strength. No more hiding our light; it is time to start shining brightly! Look at what Marianne Williamson says:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

— A Return to Love

In another section of her brilliant book, Williamson warns the reader that self-discovery is painful, but finding the courage to wake up and step into the Light of the present moment is transformative. No more living in the unconscious delusions of darkness, secrets, and the lies we tell ourselves.

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.

— Edna St. Vincent Millay

The universal journey from night to day has nothing to do with the external world. It’s not about the sun or the moon or the rotation of the earth or morality or manmade laws or religious expectations or cultural norms. It’s not about your mom or dad, your pastor or grandma, your tribe, your fraternity, or your political affiliations. It is all about you. Freedom comes when you allow God to turn your darkness into Light. Said another way, it’s about learning to see your darkness as Light. I think this is what Rumi means by, “What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”

The journey toward wholeness hinges on the amount of courage you’re able to muster as you traverse the Valley of the Shadows. What you have previously perceived as darkness may surprise you with the amount of Light it holds for this present day.  The Light has been there all along.

If your day feels as dark as night, know that you’re not alone. Even the best of days begin in darkness. And if it’s pitch black right now, and you can’t even see your hand in front of your face, keep holding on. The Light will show up soon enough. It’s just on the other side of the horizon.

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By Steve Austin

Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.