It was dark. Much too dark to be running alone.
What was I thinking?
I was thinking I would run on the treadmill instead. There’s probably wild dogs out there. Maybe I should do yoga. A person can’t see anything out there. Maybe I should go back to bed. My warm bed, yeah, that sounds good. Wait! Am I seriously scared of the dark? How old am I? Get those shoes on and get out that door. It’ll be fine. It won’t be fine. It’s really dark. I have a light. Look out those windows- see that darkness. This is ridiculous. Get your shoes on now. That’s what I was thinking. I had to conquer a healthy dose of fear before I could even leave the house. What was wrong with me? I’ve run in the dark by myself for, literally, hundreds of miles. Why was I so anxious? A deep breath, a quick prayer, and the laces were tied.
I was out the door.
As soon I made it out of my tree-covered yard onto the road, I was awe-struck by the stars. Look at what I would have missed. It was wonderful. I kept looking at those stars for the first mile. I didn’t even turn on my light. The fear of the dark was forgotten. What’s to be scared of when there are stars like that in the heavens?
“My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.” Psalm 5:3 (NKJV)
My feet followed the familiar pavement, and I was able to look up, to focus on the glory in the skies.
“Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.” Psalm 36:5-6 (NIV)
Then my routed turned onto a dirt road and on went my light. (Dirt road really means rock road here in Arkansas, and rocks are tricky.) My head went down and I had to focus on the small semi-circle of light guiding me. With my head down and my light on, the darkness seemed amplified. Suddenly there was a loud rustling in the tall grass of the ditch! Swing the light around…what was it?! Oh, I think it was just a bird. Good grief, slow down heart. A few more steps, and there was a huge rustling in the grass. Stupid light! Why aren’t you brighter? What is going on?! Swing the light around…it’s a large flock of birds, taking flight away from the scary, floating light heading their way. Seriously, slow down heart; you’ve been in the dark before. I’ve been in the dark before. As often happens, my mind started ruminating on the things God had been speaking to me over the last few days. It just so happens two verses kept swirling, two verses that seemed to contradict each other. “I will look up.” Psalm 5:3b and 2 Samuel 22:29 “O Lord, you are my light; yes, Lord, you light up my darkness.” (NLT) I was living both verses on this run- looking up and needing a light in the darkness. I fully believe the truth of both, but how do you look up when you can’t see two steps in front of you? How does that work? On I ran, meditating and watching my step.
Then my route turned onto a tree-lined, dirt road. (Tree-lined roads are especially dark.) It was ok. I had my trusty little light to watch out for pot-holes and rocks, and God lights up my darkness. Right? Wrong. A deep, growly “woof” broke through the darkness. Not just one woof. I could have dealt with a solitary bark. This was a persistent barking. Then another persistent barking joined the party. Loud, huge, constant, and totally hidden in the dark. (Note: I’ve been bitten by a dog while running before. It was not fun then, and it was daylight.) I kept moving, unfortunately closer to the sound. My overactive imagination started flashing through scenarios as fast as possible. By the time I was on the edge of the very dark yard (where are your yard lights people?!) and the ferociously barking dogs, I was filled with visions of my thigh being shredded by dog fangs. I was frozen with fear. No really, I stopped running. I couldn’t move. I kept flashing my feeble light towards the yard, trying to catch a glimpse of these noisy, invisible killers. Nothing. I couldn’t see anything.
I couldn’t just stand there, waiting for daylight. Should I turn around? No. I was not going to give into fear. I would not be forced to turn around. But I couldn’t move forward. Those dogs might run out of the yard at any moment. Help! Help, God! Whispers in the dark, pleading in the dark, please help. And suddenly, I realized that the wild barking wasn’t moving. As horrible as it sounded, it wasn’t moving! The dogs were chained or penned, somehow contained. Oh sweet relief! I could move again. I didn’t sprint out of there like a bunny. Chains can break, dogs can jump over fences. I was still scared, but I could move. “God, you light up my darkness.” Just focus on my light, my tiny light that didn’t illuminate nearly enough. As long as I kept my head down, focused on my light, I could keep moving. I would look around at the darkness surrounding me, with those howls too close for comfort, and my heart would quake. “Get your head down, Alisha. Focus on what you can see.” Yes, self, you are very wise sometimes. And then I was past it. Up a small hill, and I was back on pavement, without trees overshadowing me, with lots of yard lights. And the stars. The stars were back, and my light went off and I could look up.
I had nearly two miles left, and I spent most of it praising God for being a light in all my darkness. It wasn’t until later that day, that I came back around to my earlier conundrum: How do I look up at God’s glory when it’s so dark I can barely see two steps ahead? You don’t. You can’t. Some runs are carefree, with the road smooth and familiar, allowing you to look up and breathe in glory. Some runs are technical, with danger hiding near every step, and you have to look down. But does that mean there’s no glory to be seen? “God lights up my darkness.” God does that. He lights up that technical, tricky path covered in darkness. He’s there. His glory is there. I just have to focus on that.
It’s not so much about looking up. It’s about looking at Him. Sometimes, life’s road is smooth and easy. Look up and glorify the One whose love for you fills the heavens. Sometimes, life’s road is dark and rough. Look down and glorify the One whose love for you lights up the path. Just look at Him in all of it. That’s how we find our way home.