Learning from the Dark Can Bring Insight

Learning from the Dark Can Bring Insight

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


One of my best memories of growing up in a crowded neighborhood in Brooklyn was the ride we took each summer at the end of June. We went as a family to a campground on Long Island, where we camped until school was ready to open after Labor Day in September.

It was a time of near total freedom. My siblings and I would wander around the “woods” picking berries with our friends, hang out in the tree house we had constructed over the years with bits of lumber we found, and otherwise just do whatever occurred to us on the spur of the moment.

Every afternoon, if it wasn’t pouring rain, we would head for the beach where we would stay until dinnertime. After dinner we would sit around a fire and kibitz, either at our campsite or that of a friend. Those are golden memories!

Among those memories are sitting in the campsite looking at the stars. We didn’t see many stars in Brooklyn—the street lamps and the lights from all the buildings hid most of them from us. On a clear night, when every star seemed visible, everything felt different. It was bright. No artificial light was needed. Everything we needed was right above us.

Unwittingly, I began to understand that darkness is not a bad thing. In fact, it often makes our place in the universe clearer.

I have been spending a lot of time reading about what this understanding implies, particularly in the book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” by Barbara Brown Taylor.

Taylor reflects on so many ways that our (in)sight increases when we allow ourselves to linger in the darkness. We can learn a lot about ourselves in the darker times of our lives (think sickness, death, disabilities or the death of loved ones), if we allow ourselves to grow from what we learn, rather than run from the uncomfortable realities we face. 

Life is always a mixture of light and dark. The ancient creation stories all reflect this awareness, including the Genesis stories, which tell us the Creator separated night from day, having purpose for both.

These ongoing reflections cause me to ask, “What did I, what can I, learn from the darkness that I, like everyone else whoever lived, have faced? How did I, how can I grow from these experiences?”

It is causing me to say more emphatically than ever, that even though it often doesn’t seem right, that darkness and light are both part of my life. While I run from the darkness I may be running from a golden opportunity in which I might grow in wisdom and maturity. Which is to say, while dark times are not always welcome, I want to embrace them more fully, so that they are more fruitfully a part of the full experience of life. 

I offer that insight to you. As we relate to and care for the older adults in our lives, one of the more valuable things we can do with and for them is to walk with them during their dark times. And to do so, not seeking to provide answers (they will eventually find their own), but seeking to accompany them on their journey, allowing them to see that darkness is not always bad, but can be a time of enlightenment.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2015 Rev. James Stinson