Helpless on The Darkest Night of the Year

Five years ago, I made a secret trip to Nashville on the shortest day of the year. It may sound dramatic, but in some way, the little journey changed my life. To celebrate the anniversary and to celebrate the anniversary of my wedding, my wife and I returned to Nashville. Night hung over the city as the sun goes down early, even earlier than home. We stayed in a renovated old train station and watched as trains, some covered in snow from their trip from points north, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, rumbled beneath us. We even saw a Christmas parade, with marching bands, floats, and even that guy in the red suit travel down the street beneath our room.

I got to relive all sorts of old memories, visiting old haunts, eating Hawaiian food in a small railroad town, marveling at Christmas lights in a huge hotel, and mostly driving around a night cloaked town brightly lit with white dots. So bright the lights on so dark a night. Who knew the story would turn out this way?

The end of the year is fast approaching and I have to confess I’m eager to see it burn down. This has been a hard year, not so much for me, but for many of my friends. I lost my grandfather a couple of months ago, two friends of mine split in a painful divorce, and many friends lost jobs in a struggling economy. While Adriene and I have emerged mostly undamaged, I’ve been broken hearted so many times recently for so many people. Throughout all of these events, I have felt mostly helpless, powerless to change any of these events that seem so bleak and hang over us in a dooming storm.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot of Peter as he walked on water, and that terrifying moment when he began to sink. I dare say it’s some sick fascination. The Scriptures aren’t specific when they say “began to sink”, so I always wonder if Peter had sunk to ankle deep, or was he in water up to his waist, maybe he barely had his head above water to cry out? I think about the horrifying thoughts that ran through his head. I was walking with the Lord and now I’m going to die. Everything I wanted to do in life is lost. I am going to drown. I AM GOING TO DIE. Utter panic and despair.

More so, Peter didn’t save himself. He didn’t pull himself out of the water by the power of positive thinking, or by hoping things will get better, or by trying to be a better person. No, Peter couldn’t do anything else other than scream “Save me, Lord!” This wasn’t an issue of salvation, surely Peter was already “saved”, this was an issue of very survival. Peter was dependant on Jesus just to take another breath of air, much less do anything else.

Sometimes this year, I’ve felt like Peter, and I know many of my friends have. Going under the water for a third time, sinking downward, lungs bursting, wondering if anyone is going to grab my hand and pull me out. I don’t need God just to save my soul, I need Him to have another heart beat, to sleep through the night and withstand the terrifying nightmares and face another day. I think of total helplessness. Not only my helplessness, but the ultimate symbol of helplessness, the creator of the world, the Lord of heaven and earth, a baby unable to lift his own head much less do anything else, came to us. This is how salvation, no, my very survival came to me. Grab my sinking, reaching wrist with your tiny hand, baby Jesus. Save me from the greed, selfishness, self-righteousness, grudge-holding, unyielding self that threatens to unravel me.

So bright the light on so dark a night…

The days only become brighter from here,
Jeff Holland