How God Can Redeem the Darkness

What I learned about seeing myself as God sees me.
How God Can Redeem the Darkness

The concert ran late and I knew I was breaking curfew, which spoiled any of the fun I had in the previous hours that night. I carefully tiptoed up to my room hoping that, for a change, my mother had already gone to sleep so my punishment would come in the morning. This wasn’t the best move to make right before leaving for college. But I wasn’t running too late; maybe there was a chance that she would forget about it. Maybe not.

I quietly turned the corner to enter my room, and my jaw dropped in horror as I found all my belongings in a big pile in the middle of the floor. Everything, from pencils to underwear to my computer, was built into a giant mountain. She was wild-eyed and furious, waiting for me to arrive, and like a lion pouncing on its prey she proceeded to yell and scream, reiterating her analysis that I was inherently bad. This sort of dramatic reaction to my disobedience was not unusual, each time leaving me in a state of confusion and shame. But something about the way she said it this day was different. Along with the usual berating of my character and how I would amount to nothing, I heard something different in her voice as her rage subsided. Her eyes, full of fury, now went stone cold with a look of resignation. She carefully said, “I will never trust you. I don’t believe in you anymore. I give up.” As our eyes met in that moment, her cold gaze penetrated the depths of my soul. My inner-fighter voice that usually said, “But I will prove you wrong,” was replaced with final defeat and a laying down of arms. Suddenly overwhelmed by the wave of darkness, my mom and I wept bitterly into the night. I could not hate myself any more in that moment.

An ecosystem of death

I never understood all the complicated dynamics that existed between my mom and me. There was the usual mother-daughter dynamic that so many experience: the mother as the scientist, always examining the daughter specimen and constantly tweaking in order to prime and perfect for marriage and motherhood. I can only imagine her struggle of survival in America as a Korean immigrant, sacrificing her own wants and needs for her children and showing love in the ways that fit her culture but didn’t speak to me growing up in America. But then there seemed to be an extra layer of complication that seeped into our interactions and went above and beyond these other factors. Was it okay that she tore up my favorite outfits in front of me because I wore them too much? Did it seem necessary to tear the ribbon out of my favorite cassette tape because I danced to it? Could it be right to punish me by keeping me home from school and making me hold my hands in the air all day, naked? Even now I struggle with labeling it as abuse or manipulation since this is what I thought love was.

The seed of darkness from that fateful night took root in my soul, and it had a voracious appetite. The darkness fed on shame and self-hatred, so each attempt to shine and smile prettily through hurt and pain was delicious to the darkness. Busying myself with projects and jobs and tasks were delectable treats. Each coping mechanism for survival as a worthless person was a tasty meal for this darkness, and it grew and grew, flirting dangerously with any of the true parts of myself. In turn, the darkness kept me alive in a half-existence by finding more places in my soul for me to bury the pain, all of which led to deeper roots for the darkness itself. It was an ecosystem of death, one I started to feel strangely at home in.

Many years later, I rocked my newborn baby Hudson during his first days of life. I stroked his perfect little fingers and chubby cheeks. There wasn’t a more perfect and innocent creature that existed on earth. I leaned in and whispered, “I love you so, so much. I will never, ever, ever…” and felt the tears well up in anguish as the painful memories of that night of resignation came to the surface. I wanted to say, “I will never make you feel like a waste of a space.” I wanted to say, “I will never make you feel rejected or ashamed of who you are.” I really wanted to say those things to my precious baby in full confidence. But I couldn’t bring myself to finish that sentence because I couldn’t know for sure if it was true. I couldn’t say that I had broken the cycle of abuse and violence simply by avoiding the pain of the past and living in survival mode. But somehow I knew that there was some active work to be done, a deep healing, and God was beckoning me to it now more than ever.

Redeeming the darkness

How does one begin unraveling the wounds of the past? I had grown quite accustomed to this dark ecosystem. It was my modus operandi, my shelter, my hiding place. It had gotten me this far, right? There were times when I let the darkness take over me as I numbly handed over the controls, resulting in some roadblocks. But then I always seemed to recover and hide my tracks somewhat well. It didn’t seem so bad. Plus, I was completely terrified of what I would uncover once I began, deathly afraid of feeling the lifetime of pain I had tried so hard to conceal. I didn’t even know how to approach God in an honest way. Surely the God of the universe didn’t have time to deal with my silly thoughts and desires. They weren’t worth bringing as an offering. I wasn’t worthy. I felt like Adam and Eve, using puny little leaves to cover myself when God knew all along who I was and exactly what I was doing.

And yet I heard God’s still, small voice, so strong yet so peaceful, saying, “I want more. Bring it all to me. All of it.”

At first, I enlisted the help of a professional therapist because I knew I couldn’t do it alone. This moved me light years ahead in terms of confronting the pain. It felt powerful to name my shame and counter it with truth that revealed a little more of who I really was, who I was created to be. That active and facilitated work provided me the tools and courage to go at it and work by myself in the everyday quiet moments. One tip I received from a friend was to allow myself three pages every morning to write down everything going on in my heart and soul as a concrete offering to God. I began writing everything down in its raw form, unpolished and unattractive, sometimes even spilling beyond the allotted three pages. At first I was half-expecting some sort of punishment from God, or even a sign of resignation similar to my mother’s. No doubt it was exhausting to hear. But God received every word, fear, anxiety, and even silliness with arms wide open. There was a tenderness I felt, as if God actually treasured every word written, even celebrated it. It was unchartered territory, and as I took each step of discovery I was being swallowed up in the quicksand of God’s unending love and mercy. I was free falling, all the way down until I hit the most solid and sure ground I had ever known—the ground that was there all along.

As much as I was tempted to banish the darkness or pretend it wasn’t there anymore, I realized that hiding it would lead to shame, thus reigniting the vicious ecosystem. Instead, I fed the darkness with hope and love, the same hope and love that had been gifted to me in abundance as I stood taller and taller in my nakedness before God. I fed it creativity and compassion, and kindly made room for the darkness to be redeemed in the light of the living God. I included the story of the darkness, thanking it for giving me an extra layer of depth and texture that could hopefully be a gift to others someday. That dark root that had been planted so many years ago was morphing into a thriving hybrid plant, flourishing wildly in its complexity and wholeness.

Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper,

and instead of the briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown,

for an everlasting sign,

that will endure forever. (Isa. 55:13)

Revealing every little nook and cranny of ourselves to God is terrifying, and yet also extremely exhilarating. Admitting that we need help in the free fall to authenticity comes from a place of awareness and wisdom, never from a place of weakness. We can learn to see ourselves as God sees us, and to sort out the distorted views that have been so deeply ingrained and rooted in our souls. And God, ever faithful, joyfully forges our path the whole way.

Angie Hong is Creative Director at Willow Chicago. Taken from Soul Bare by Cara Sexton. Copyright (c) 2016 by Cara Sexton. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.

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