by Cindy Felkel
“I’m just so tired, Cindy. I’m so, so tired….” As my friend continued crying, she curled up into the fetal position and put her head on my lap. She stayed that way for hours. I remember watching my own tears roll down her arm and wondering how I could help her. I prayed and prayed as she whimpered and finally drifted off into a fitful sleep. The next day, I couldn’t even voice the grief in my soul. It was so profound and deep I couldn’t find words to verbalize how much pain I’d seen. I told people, “I feel like I looked at hell.” Experiencing her pain with her broke something in me and I couldn’t deny that it was broken. I couldn’t put it back together and I didn’t know what to do with the broken pieces. I didn’t even understand what was broken. I just felt dazed and profoundly, intensely sad. Like my soul was heavy. When I closed my eyes, I saw the faces of other people whose stories were similar to my friend’s. Years of working with at-risk youth, migrant workers, and survivors of abuse all seemed real on a whole new intense level for me. I suddenly knew their pain first hand and I couldn’t bear it. After a while, I cried out to God, “Where are you? Where are you in their stories? I want to believe you care but I don’t see you…” Over the next few days, I tried to pray and read the Bible, but the words just seemed empty and my prayers seemed petty. I just wanted to feel good and look away from the darkness I had seen. I didn’t think I could bear seeing what the world is really like. I wanted the world to be different. I began to recognize that the broken thing, was my distorted sense of reality and honestly, I wanted it back. I wanted things to be simpler and nicer. God was showing me something more… I remember sitting and staring at John 1:4-5 “In him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” I said (out loud like a crazy person). “God. I’m sorry. I don’t see it.” I ranted for a while about my friend’s life and how she didn’t deserve to be born into the circumstances she was born into. How was it doing any good for me to feel so much pain with her and not be able to change anything? I didn’t hear a Mufasa voice booming from the sky with a profound bit of truth that would magically make everything ok, like “Cindy, have faith run around all the trees in your front yard backward three times and all will be well.” So, I took my own annoying advice and decided to read the book of John, “like an English teacher”. (Reading the Bible “like an English teacher” is the phrase I use for reading the Bible to discover what it actually says rather than what you want it to say or what you already believe. It means applying the skills, you should have learned in your high school English literature class, to reading the Bible. Understanding the context, culture, literary devices, purpose, style, purpose, and looking up the definitions of keywords.) For the book of John, I started with researching online: when it was written, why it was written, and what literary style he used. (This is why I joke about having a theology degree from Google!) This is what I found: John most likely wrote his account of Jesus around 85 CE or later. This is significant because of what John had seen before he wrote his account. The siege of Jerusalem happened in 70 CE. Because the siege happened just before the Passover, Jews from all over the Roman Empire were in Jerusalem. According to the historian, Josephus, 1.1 million Jews were killed during the siege. Normally, soldiers stopped slaughtering people once they were subdued, but they had built up so much resentment against the Jews that they kept killing them even when they were ordered to stop. In addition to the massacre, they enslaved those Jews remaining. Think about how John felt having lived through such a tragedy. Those were his relatives. They were his people. Talk about survivor’s guilt! Many followers of Jesus had been spared because they no longer went to Jerusalem for Passover. The people killed were their family members, the people they grew up with. How could anyone live with that? In addition, there had been persecution against Jesus’ followers. Most likely, all of the other disciples were among the many followers of Jesus who had been killed for their faith by the time John wrote his gospel.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — John 1:5
So, how did John see all that he saw and still say, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”(1:5)? I’ve been asking that question for a few months now. Often when I ask people about how John saw all that he saw and still had so much hope, they tell me to “focus on the light”. Which sounds great, except, sometimes, what they really mean is: retreat. Don’t have any influence. Live in denial.
I want to look fully at the problems in the world and know the light of Jesus is still shining in those dark places.
I’m not going to lie. I almost wish I could go back to their bubble. Only, that is what was broken for me. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. I don’t want to. I want to really know what John knew. I don’t want the easy answers of sheltered privilege. I want to grow in my understanding of gritty answers that can see reality and I want to still know hope.
I believe ultimately, there is tremendous hope for the people whose trauma we’ve seen. It isn’t in the easy answers which many people are peddling. I want to live my life with a gritty hope and messy peace which can look fully into the darkness around us, and proudly proclaim with John, “the light is still shining. The darkness has not overcome it!”
Over the next few days, as we face the stark realities of the coronavirus, I will be sharing my honest reflections on the book of John with you. I’m struggling. I’m sad. I’m scared. I hate being isolated. Yet in it all, I still see hope. I know the light of Jesus is still at work in the world. I hope you will join me in learning to focus on that light while still seeing the darkness.
Peace and hope to you my friends! Cindy
Cindy is a Life Coach and writer who dreams of being an inspirational comedian. She loves communicating with people and connecting people with God and each other. She lives in Coventry, CT with her hubby of 29 years. She has three grown sons, two daughters-in-law (looking for a 3rd!), and two grandkids. She grew up in the South but has lived in Rhode Island more than anywhere. She has a Southern accent with a Rhode Island attitude. Cindy celebrates the power of our stories at: http://holdmyicedcoffee.com/