More Thoughts on Darkness and Why It’s So Creepy…


I’ve continued to think about “darkness,” and what it is that makes it so creepy–to kids and adults alike!  I wonder if part of the reason that we just really, really don’t like it is that darkness can not only cause us to feel like we are not in control in those moments when there is not enough light to see, but it can also shatter the illusion that we ever were….

In my most recent post (“Why is everything so creepy when it’s dark?”), I wrote the following:  “Why do things seem so much scarier when we–kids and adults alike–can’t see?  I suspect it’s because of just that–we can’t see!  When we can’t see, we don’t know what’s ‘out there.’   And when we don’t know what’s ‘out there,’ we don’t know what to prepare for.  And when we don’t know what to prepare for, we feel out of control.  And when we feel out of control, we get scared.  Because we like to be in control.”

Ain’t that the truth??!

We like to be in control.  We like to know what’s going around us, and what’s going to be going on around us.  We like to believe that we can control our own lives and make our own destiny, that if we do a, b, and c, then x, y, and z will happen.  We like to make plans based on what we know, and assume that things will go according to those plans.

We really, really like to be in control.

And there’s really no need to question this when we can see, when there is sufficient light to make well thought-out decisions and react appropriately to our environment, when there is adequate information, experience, and rational thought to support the making of reasonable choices.  We spend much of our lives not only responding to our surroundings but attempting to manipulate them, according to our needs and wants, often doing so quite successfully.  Thus, we believe that we are, in fact, in control.  And we like it!

But then, inevitably, something happens, and that “something” causes our well-ordered, or at least half-manageable, life to careen out of control.  Without any warning, the rug is pulled out from under us, causing us to spin wildly through the air for what can seem like either an immeasurably long or an unimaginably short time, until we find ourselves on the ground again, flat on our backs, dazed, and wondering what just happened!  Something unexpected, unplanned for, and usually unpleasant “just happened.”  And that “something” can cause our judgment to become clouded by fear or despair, our mind to become muddied with loneliness or bitterness, our body to become our enemy rather than our ally.  Something happens and we find ourselves needing to make choices based on information that is not only inadequate but unavailable; we find ourselves wanting to draw on past experience yet having none; we find ourselves longing for rational thought but finding it all but absent.  Something happens, and we suddenly find ourselves in the dark…and no longer in control.

And we don’t like it!  It’s scary!  It’s unnerving!  It’s overwhelming!  We have no idea what’s happening around us.  Things are not going as planned.  When we do a, b, and c, we don’t get x, y, or z; we get -212!  The lights have gone out, we are in utter darkness, and life is no longer predictable, reliable, or understandable.  We realize we are not in control, and that is hard to swallow.

But you know what?  We were never in control in the first place.

Much as we try to make it so, life is not predictable, or reliable, or understandable.

Much as we try to deny it, life is messy, and fragile, and mysterious.

And much as we want to believe it, we are not in control.

There’s no doubt that we love to think we are.  In fact, we work hard to convince each other and ourselves that we are!  We make plans and live by schedules.  We eat well, exercise, and try to manage our stress in healthy ways.  We try to do those things that we know are right and good, in an effort to produce appropriately right and good results in our own lives and in the world around us–and we try to teach our children to do those same things.  And when we see some of those right and good results in our lives, when we see happiness, health, successful careers, financial security, honor-roll/all-star children, and so on and so on and so on, then the myth of our control is perpetuated.  And all of the “light” that we perceive in our lives causes us to glow with satisfaction that is, to some extent, like it or not, admit it or not, self-congratulatory.  To some degree, at least, we have made it so.

But then, somehow, the blasted light goes out.  “You’re fired.”  “I want a divorce.”  “I found a lump….”  “I have a drinking problem.”  “The fetus is not viable.”  “Dad, I flunked out of college.”  “I’m in love with someone else.”  “You need emergency heart surgery.  Now.”  “Your child has diabetes.”  “Mom, I was raped….”  “We did everything we could.  I’m sorry….”  “There’s been an accident….”  “Terrorists have struck the Twin Towers…”  “Twenty-five students have been shot and killed…”  “There’s been an earthquake, and I haven’t heard from my son…”  “The President has declared war….”  Darkness.

And suddenly, the illusion is shattered.  The veil is torn away.  The facade crumbles.  We aren’t in control.

The things we thought were stable, aren’t.

The things we thought we could manage, we can’t.

The things we thought were predictable, reliable, and understandable…aren’t.

The control we thought we had…we don’t.

Everything is creepy when it’s dark because not only can we not see beyond our own nose, not only are we unable to know what’s “out there,” not only, in those moments when light eludes us, have we lost the control we so dearly cherish and so desperately cling to…but even more frightening, the darkness forces us to acknowledge that that control was never ours to have.

So, what?  Do we just give up?  Do we just give in?

Do we give up trying to live well-ordered lives, and give in to the feeling that chaos always seems to be just a breath away…so why bother?

Do we give up trying to make plans and follow schedules, and give in to the reality that those plans can be interrupted and disrupted at any moment by some piece of bad news…so why bother?

Do we give up trying to eat well and exercise, and give in to the attitude that any day any one of us might be hit by a bus or felled by a pulmonary embolism…so why bother?

Do we give up trying to do the right thing, and give in to the mindset that the “right result” is out of our control…so why bother?

In the face of the realization that in spite of all of our best-laid plans for success, all of our well-thought-out strategies for living a long life, all of our admirable intentions for doing good, all of our commendable aspirations for moving ever-forward in our quest for wellness–when we are faced with the truth that in spite of all of that, we are not, ultimately, in control, do we throw our hands in the air, shake our heads, give a loud and long sigh, and give up and give in to despair??

No.  Absolutely not. We must not give up, and we must not give in.

We must continue to live with purpose, to desire wellness, to move toward wholeness, with the same commitment and devotion we had when we believed it was all within our control.  But we do it with humility.  We do it with a recognition of our humanity, our mortality, our vulnerability.  We do it with an awareness of our limitations, acknowledging our limited knowledge, our limited capabilities, our limited perspective, our limited understanding, our limited control.

And we do it with faith.  Faith in a bigger picture.  Faith in a deeper Reality than what we can see.  Faith in a Goodness that is greater than we can grasp.  Faith in a God who desires wholeness for us far beyond what we can comprehend, and who loves us far more than we can imagine.

A moment ago I declared that in the face of the knowledge that we are not, nor ever were, in control, we must not give up, nor must we give in.  And I believe that to be true…

…unless what we give up is our need to be in control.

…unless what we give up is our illusion of control.

…unless what we give up is our fear of the dark….

So that we might give in to God, for whom “the darkness is as light” (Ps. 139:12), and who is, in fact, “the Light of the world.” (John 8:12)

Darkness comes into each of our lives, in different ways, in different times, in different places.  And that darkness can shatter our illusion of control, which can be terrifying.  But as people of faith, we don’t have to be afraid.  As people of faith, we can loosen our white-knuckled grip on being in control and cling with fierceness instead to God.  As people of faith, we can move from being scared of the dark, to being in the dark without being scared!

Thanks be to God!

Care to join me?  🙂



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