I caught up with my college roommate today via text message. I have to hit “Load earlier messages” 6 times on my iPhone screen to get to the beginning of the conversation. Aren’t our thumbs falling off? Why didn’t we just call each other? We were both holding sleeping baby girls with full tummies, and our husbands had both of our older daughters out of our houses for a while. Sometimes you just need to take a few silent moments when they’re offered. I don’t think we anticipated the length of the conversation, anyway–it started with a text from her asking me what the hell I’m doing for birth control. She remembered from college that I was adamantly against anything, hormonal or otherwise, that alters the hospitality of the uterus to an already-fertilized egg, and she knew I wouldn’t be on a combination hormonal contraceptive because of its impact on milk supply. She has decided over the years that she agrees with my stance and wanted to know what options were left (few and unpleasant, in case you were wondering–and no, I don’t really want to have a birth control debate).
At the end of the God-forbid-I-have-another-child-right-now discussion, she sent a text that almost launched me out of the glider and across the nursery: “I love how you just exude Jesus, even when you’re not talking about Him.”
I read it again. It still said the same thing. Ouch.
Would I be honest? She loves me deeply and knows me better than all but a few people. Would I tell her the truth about what I’ve become?
Nope. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stop being a refuge for her. For four years, I was the one she came to for prayer and encouragement. I was the one she cried with. She sees me as one who shaped her into the bride her husband cherishes and as one who modeled godly motherhood. She sees me as one who speaks prayer-filled wisdom into her circumstances. If you take all that away, I’m just the one who proofread her English papers, shared bathroom cleaning duties, and accompanied her on runs alongside mountains to the lighthouse on the bay.
Oh, that lighthouse. I went there as often without her as I went with her. Something about it captured me–I would wake up hours before class just so I could run the two miles to the bay and be bathed in its light before sunrise. I wrote about that lighthouse in my journal–about my desire to guide lost others to safety with light that I bring because of Christ in me. I shared that ambition with her on a fall morning run after she asked why we had to get up so early just to see the light. “You already are a lighthouse for me,” she had said–it had been a tumultuous year, and she was struggling to have faith.
And years later, she still sees that in me. And I can’t blame her–I look very much the same. The lighthouse still stands over the bay, keeping up appearances–but perhaps she isn’t running early enough. There is not enough darkness to test the light. And this lighthouse no longer emits it.
I couldn’t tell her the truth. In response to her message, I simply said “I’m humbled–my faith has definitely been stronger before than it is now.” “Mine too,” she confessed, and the conversation developed into an unburdening of her struggles onto my iPhone screen. I responded with as much encouragement as I could muster without bringing Jesus into it or offering prayer. I guess it was enough, because she posted a screen-shot of part of our conversation to her Instagram account hours later and tagged me in it, saying how uplifting my words had been.
I feel like such an imposter. I’m the one in the dark. I don’t even think there is a light for me–much less that I’m the one who casts it on lost vessels in treacherous waters. I still have everybody fooled. If the Isaiah 45 God is real, the One who forms light and creates darkness, He has taken that light from me and banished me to a place of its absence. I have found no treasures of darkness. He has spoken in secret, and I have sought Him in vain.
But what if I have a lantern that I brought with me? What if I take this boat through shadowy waters and shine enough light to see what’s right in front of me? I would be in the midst of other lost vessels. I would see the weakened swimmer treading water, and my light would be enough to bring him into my boat. What good is a lighthouse to someone who is already shipwrecked? All it tells them of is the safety they do not know. It shows them the way it reveals to be safe, but it cannot take them there. It’s so far away–they can see its light, but the light doesn’t pass over them. They can make out the silhouette against a moonlit sky, but they will never know the safety of its walls. It is an ideal; it is the symbol of a promise unkept, a potential unreached, a hope unfulfilled. It is the Church. Even if its light passes over a wrecked soul, it does nothing to rescue. It simply says “Here is where you should have gone; over there is danger,” without any regard for the fact that influences you couldn’t control were pushing you like waves toward your final destination.
I cannot sweep a beam of light that reveals the path to assured safety–I do not know the way. But I can journey with the light I do have through dark waters with those who are already lost to the Church–those for whom the sweeping light came too late, or those who were swept away by forces that superseded its influence. If I can ever stop pretending to be a lighthouse on a hillside, I can be a lantern on a boat. And maybe with careful and questioning navigation, my fellow travelers and I will all reach safety–even without the lighthouse.