“Can I please have a drink of water?”
Every night was the same routine. I would wake suddenly, unsure if I was thirsty or terrified of the darkness that seemed to hover over me like a thick cloud. Paralyzed and glued to my bed, I would call out to my father, never doubting that he would answer.
Night after night, I would wake and call out, summoning my father from deep sleep to rush to my bedside, glass of water in hand. It was never about the water, of course—I just needed to know he was there. The water was just an acceptable way to ask him to come to my room.
Years later (after therapy and a great deal of self-examination), I came to realize that I was profoundly afraid of the dark as a child. There is any number of explanations why, and none of them matter much anymore. But what has stayed with me all these years is how the presence of my father in the dark of the night erased any sense of fear or terror.
Jacob wrestled with God all night. Moses met God in the thick darkness. The parting of the Red Sea happened at night.
To be clear, my father didn’t run down the hall with a flashlight in hand, or turn on my bedroom light. Mostly he stumbled down the unlit hallway, to an unlit bathroom, to fill whatever vessel he could find with water. Then he would enter my room and wait in the dark while I took a small sip.
This is significant because it was never light that eased my fears in those moments. It was simply knowing that when I needed him, when I was afraid, my father would show up. Even in the dark. And that he was willing to stand in the darkness while I slowly sipped the water, eyes darting around the room to make sure all the monsters living in the shadows were fleeing in his presence.
Light was never the answer in those moments. My father was comfortable in the dark. He was comfortable enough in the absence of light to stay with me until my “thirst” had subsided and I was once again at peace, ready to sleep until morning.
I’m no longer afraid of the dark in my bedroom or a dark house at night, but I am afraid of the darkness that settles inside me sometimes. You know, that dark cloud that nestles in deep and holds us down for a time.
It used to be that I was really afraid of that particular kind of darkness, because I felt like God was absent in those times. God is light and in him is no darkness at all, so God can’t be present during those dark times, right?
Well, if you read the Bible, God shows up in the dark a lot.
In fact, when Moses met God on the mountain, “The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21). The thick darkness where God was.
Could it be that God is willing to come to us in the darkness, to meet us in the darkness, too?
We are so convinced that if we can just get through whatever dark time we currently find ourselves in, or whatever horrible heavy situation we face day in and day out, if we can just get to the other side, get to the light, God will be there waiting for us.
But that’s not what’s offered as a promise in Scripture. It occurs to me that the promise is that God shows up in the dark.
Jacob wrestled with God all night. Moses met God in the thick darkness. The parting of the Red Sea happened at night. There are more examples, of course.
The point is: God is not always on the other side of the darkness, waiting for us to break through into the light. Sometimes God is with us in the dark, patiently waiting as a quiet presence until our fears subside and peace returns. That should give us a great deal of comfort.
The God I know is powerful enough to stand in the dark and stay with us until all the monsters are gone.
Lieutenant Erin Metcalf is the corps officer at Niagara Orchard Community Church in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Feature photo: © LightFieldStudios/iStock.com