“When the street lights come on, you should be home!” Was that your family rule when you were a little kid? What did your parents really mean? Was it, WHEN you see the street lights you should go home, or IF the street lights are on, you should be home? The first gives wiggle room for not noticing; the second is an expectation, lights on one better be home.
As we were teaching a Bible study in South Africa, we looked for a good illustration of God’s light. His light is His brilliant, fiery love for us, only set on destroying those things which hinder us from full wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. But we aren’t forced to look at the light; God gives us the respect of choice; we can choose to walk towards the light or turn our back and walk away from it. It still shines the same, but we see the light differently.
We put one of our leaders in a dark hallway and placed them just in front of the light, the light to his back. There was a blurry shadow down the long hallway, even extending across the ceiling and onto the side walls. We asked him to move slowly toward the wall in front of him. As he moved closer, we asked the group what they were seeing. They noticed that as he closed the gap to the wall in front of him, his own shadow becoming more defined, even smaller. His focus was on the shadow of himself, not the light that surrounded him; he seemed to forget the light still shining behind him.
That’s how it is with us as we turn away from our loving Father toward other things; the further we go, the more engulfed we get with ourselves, what we desire, what we think we need. His light is still there, He never changes, but our attentions are elsewhere. And the farther we walk away, the more we focus on ourselves; our passions become our focus.
Our next step was to put more people in the hallway with their back to the light. What was in front now? More darkness, dark shadows overlapping one another. Scripture talks about the company we keep and how bad company corrupts; the distortion becomes so great that the light almost appears to be blocked. Our choice of company disguises the truth of God’s love. We become more blind, more unaware of the light of God’s love still shining on us, and our “friends” don’t see it either.
Finally, we asked other staff members to stand along the hallway’s sides and turn their cell phone lights onto the group in the middle. Their lights represented the light of Jesus in you and me. The light of Jesus spills forth and reaches every person around us. And what difference did all of those lights make? The shadows on the wall became dimmer! A new reality began to emerge. The group’s eyes in the middle immediately looked not only at the lights in front of them and on the sides, but they turned! They looked back up the hallway to see all of the other people with their lights shining! And what else did they find? The primary source was still as brilliant as before!
Oh, but so many lights! The first instinct was to cover their eyes. And that’s what we do when we see the truth of love’s light. We compare ourselves, and then, we often hide our true self in shame, much like our ancestors of old in the Garden of Eden.
Social scientist, Brené Brown, has done extensive research on the topic of shame. She says shame is a label used to declare, I AM BAD; my person is terrible or defective. We all suffer those feelings. Every time we are ducking our head or can’t look into the eyes of someone, we love indicates shame. And each time, it wounds at the core of our being. But guilt is different; it is the emotion that says I did something bad; actions were bad. I am guilty of telling a lie, versus I am a bad person because I said the lie. Shame labels the person defective; guilt’s object is the behavior.
We need the courage to label shame for what it is, a lie from the deceiver! The light of God’s love shines on each of us equally, cascading across humans made in His image, and He declared us to be “Very Good.” Whether we are looking entirely away from God or turned to some degree in the middle, our orientation in the hallway never changes God’s degree of fondness for us. Yet, some use culture, politics, religious doctrines, and different social interpretations of scriptural meanings as arrows of shame. Shame arrows, verbally stated or released with a condescending glance, deliver a message; this person or these people are evil. And, we do it to ourselves too!
To see like Jesus is to gaze with equality for the personhood of each person walking this planet. To love like Jesus, even harder, puts them above me in my actions. But the courageous love of Jesus, His light from you and me, makes someone in the hallway stop and take notice. Maybe they will begin to turn, find their courage to discover their blindness, admit their guilt, and take a step back toward the light. God’s light is on, and it’s time to be home.