Each July I unplug from the regular tasks and routines of church ministry, and spend a couple weeks of family vacation and another couple weeks of spiritual retreat and contemplation. I enter this time envisioning times of joyful intimacy with Jesus, endless hours reading Scripture and other spiritual books, and then writing out of the overflow of these inspired moments basking in the presence of Christ’s light.

This has not been the case at all for me the past few summers. Instead of basking in the glow of Christ’s light, I have found myself stumbling into darkness and depression. Instead of finding “warm fuzzies” at the end of a spiritual rainbow, I have found myself descending a spiral staircase into the depths of my own soul.

We’re all seeking a quality of life that is full of light—bright and shiny, happy and airy. Compare the experience of waking up on a Saturday morning in mid-July with rays of sunshine piercing the blinds and birds singing cheerfully with waking up in mid-January to a darkened room and bitter cold frost coating your window. The one leads you to rise up with a smile while the other makes you want to pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep.

People can have a similar effect. Jesus radiated a quality of life that was as bright and warm as the afternoon sun. His presence lit up a room and his words warmed many shivering souls still hiding under the covers. His life-light also exposed things we’d rather keep hidden in the dark—though not to shame us, but to liberate us from these secret inner Tyrants.

We marvel as we read, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” But for many of us, much of the time, we must admit that, “In me is death and this death casts a gloomy shadow over my interactions with mankind.” Oh, how I want to be filled with more of the light of Christ, and have that light flood out all the darkness that lingers like a thick fog on a cloudy day.

When I find myself revisiting the valley of the shadow of death and making mental mud pies in the pit, the mind of my “flesh” tells me I’m in Enemy territory. The Accuser tells me I’m moving away from God, I’m not fit for ministry, I’m broken and should call it quits. My soul protests: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matt 16:23).

The spirit of the age says, “The light shines on those skipping about in the noonday light, happy and satisfied and self-sufficient.” The Spirit of Truth reminds me, “The light shines in the darkness.” Darkness is where Christ’s loving presence and warm glow is most at home. If you want an encounter with the Lantern of Life, don’t go watch the sunrise. Descend into the depths of the earth with a pickaxe and a desperate soul, and start mining for God. “The light shines in the darkness.”

What if I’ve been missing Christ’s life changing light and presence by looking for him in the wrong places? Have I been seeking Him in mountaintop moments of ministry success? Have I been looking for Him in my most illuminating sermons and writings? Have I been seeking His presence when the boat is steady and the waters are calm? “The light shines in the darkness.”

This is good news! This means I don’t have to fear the darkness inside. Christ is hiding there, waiting for me there. I don’t have to run from my own bouts with depression and dark nights of the soul. Christ is hiding there, waiting to teach me there. I don’t have to wait for the inner storm to be stilled before God can minister through me. I can help others discover the steady presence of Christ at the back of the boat in their own storms precisely because I have spent many sleepless nights at sea. Only those who have really been buffeted by the wind and the waves are able to hear and fully appreciate when Christ whispers, “Peace! Be still.”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is no match for His light—not even the darkness you may currently be experiencing. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light which gives life” (John 8:12). Once we let the light flood our soul, we ourselves will in turn become reflectors and radiators of that same light; we become mini-lights shining for all mankind. Amen.