We have just completed our first series of officers’ councils in the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland. It has been a time of blessing and inspiration for us as we have interacted with officers of the territory. As I sat reflecting on the many positive impressions from the past two weeks, I recalled an unusual experience I had a year ago – at one of the last officers’ councils we conducted in Norway. I believe my reflections on that experience are worth repeating here.
We were at a camp/conference centre in a place called Jæren, a decidedly rural area - with the attendant sights, sounds and scents - on the south-western coast of Norway. Early in the morning, after a restless night in yet another strange bed, I got up to take a walk before breakfast. It was as dark outside as only a rural place can be. A darkness compounded by swirling mist.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten to take my headlamp from home and, as soon as I stepped out of the feeble glow of the outside light of the centre, I realised that I was going to have a challenging time. “Visibility” - I use the word under protest since all I saw was a dark grey outline - was confined to 12 to 15 yards. (For those concerned about health and safety, I had remembered my reflex vest!) I decided to follow the white stripes painted on the edge of the road and see if I could find my cautious way to the spot - about a mile along the road - I usually used as a marker for a turnaround point whenever I went walking in that place. I realised that the lines were like a framework – guidelines which kept me from going off the road and either treading in some unmentionable, squelchy awfulness or breaking a bone or two! “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path!” I thought, grateful suddenly for both the white stripes and the Word.
When the white stripes disappeared - as they did too often for my liking - I found myself moving to the centre of the road. I could barely make out the outline of the road as a lighter shade of dark to the darkness around me. I thought about the wisdom of moving into the centre of the road when the edges are so unclear. I thought then of my two young-adult children who are often placed in paths where the edges are not so easily defined, where it would be easy to take a false step, or even go down a wrong path, where choosing to walk in the middle of the road would be safest though not necessarily the most exciting course to take. “Middle of the road” would mean the foundational beliefs and convictions that shape our lives and for which we don’t need to turn to the Scriptures, even though they are grounded in Scripture, because they have become ingrained in us. Sometimes, in my own life, when the “white stripes” disappear (and there are various reasons for that), it can be exciting to “walk on the edge”, but it’s almost always dangerous. It certainly is not as secure as being in the middle of the road in the darkness!
I found myself being grateful that, thanks to my upbringing and the many who have crossed my path, I had a “centre” to which I could drift whenever I lost track.
I came across an avenue of trees and, if it were possible, it was even darker in there than it had been before. I could not see the road and, therefore, could not see where the middle of the road was. I was forced to use the flashlight on my mobile phone to get through that dark tunnel of trees. It occurred to me that, occasionally, it gets too dark - possibly because our circumstances are so desperate – so dark, in fact, that we resort to finding our way by artificial light. The mobile-phone flashlight worked well - it was very bright, much brighter than the light that had been available to me before – and it got me through the dark tunnel of trees. But, my eyes had been “spoilt” by the artificial light, which made it impossible for me to see “normally”. Reality could not be seen because of the artificial light and it took several long seconds - while my eyes adjusted to the “normality of the darkness” - before I could resume walking again.
There is plenty of “artificial lighting” along our way - mostly wonderful and bright (like the recent officers’ councils), but, frequently, such a moment of brilliant illumination causes us to need to take a few moments to adjust to the “normal” light again, because it is in the normal light that we walk the walk! I found myself being grateful for the moments of artificial brilliance, but also the fact that I have been directed to a definite path for my life, ministry and mission and, regardless of whether it is day or night, light or dark, I have the wherewithal to find my way in life.
I made it safely back to the centre - only one vehicle passed me on the way (in the “tree tunnel” when I had my light switched on), which, in my mind, effectively destroyed the myth that country folk are early-risers. No man, nor beast, was seen apart from the driver who passed, driving on the wrong side of the narrow road with as much space between us as possible.
It can be lonely walking in the dark, but, simultaneously, quite illuminating!
I used to sing a song as a young officer – this, too, came to mind as I reflected on my walk in the dark:
Jesus is walking beside me Guiding each step of the way. Safely he'll guide me to Heaven - Gladly his voice I'll obey.
He lovingly guards every footstep. He tenderly cares for me. His strong arms of love are about me - My Saviour and Shepherd is he.