I’ve made a habit lately of studying the Amish. I use the word “study” loosely as this is not a simple curiosity of mine or some kind of theological experiment. My exploration flows out of a deep respect and admiration for their faith and spirituality. We English (that’s what the Amish call us outside their communities) recognize them because of their familiar beards, horse-drawn buggies, fine woodworking, or barn-raisings, but there’s a lot more to this group than sturdy furniture and firm dispositions. They have a lively, vibrant faith despite their archaic lifestyles.The Amish (and their cousins the Mennonites, Brethren, and a few other groups) I have come to know are lovers and active makers of peace. They value simplicity above almost any other thing. They love their families and community, and they have a profound trust in God. This trust, employing a good Amish-German word, is called “Gelassenheit.”“Gelassenheit” is usually translated into English as “submission,” "yield," or "serenity," but it is so much more. It is a total letting go of entanglements. It is a relinquishment of the self. It is an exchange of human, personal will for a “thy will be done” kind of life — not a blind, hopeless fatalism, but a defiant and restful faith in God. One Amish farmer summed up “Gelassenheit” like this: “We don’t pray for rain,” he said. “But we are thankful to God when the rain arrives.” This perspective gives the Amish a completely different understanding of “the will of God” than most of the Christian universe.Many of us have been taught, tacitly or overtly, that “God’s will” is this magic be-all-end-all, which, if discovered, can end all the angst and indecision of life. So we chase after and fret over what God wants us to do, thinking there will be complete and total disaster if we miss the secret plan he has for us. We twist and writhe in the anguish of our decisions, never feeling good about any choice we make.Finally, we conjure up all the bravado or foolishness we can muster, smile through gritted teeth, and give a direction a whirl. If it all works out, we praise God for his magnificent direction. If it is a belly-flopping disaster we scratch our heads, feel terribly ashamed, and blame God or our weak faith for leading us the wrong way.The truth is, most Christians really want to do what God wants us to do; we want to do “the will of God.” Equally as true, however, is this: There is no exact formula for finding this will. This does not sound very spiritual, but in my experience, finding God’s will is as much about trial and error as it is about praying and seeking. And yes, sometimes it ends in a big mess. Maybe we can take a cue from the Amish and neutralize the mystery of finding and doing God’s will. Maybe we can learn to simply trust God with our life and our circumstances. Maybe, if we keep hitting the wall, we can stop, listen, and trust for a while. Maybe we can learn to yield our own wills, or at least stop using God’s name to sanction our decisions.
Light serves a profound function in our lives. Receive too much or too little of it and you’ll experience both physical and emotional effects. I remember visiting Alaska in the summer and reading a book by sunlight at two in the morning. This was a pretty cool experience but it made it quite difficult to sleep at my normal times. I also have many friends who live in Seattle and talk about the lack of sunlight they receive on a regular basis. It’s not uncommon for a person to choose where she lives based on the light available in that state. Light affects everything.It shouldn’t surprise us then that light serves as an important metaphor for spirituality. The apostle John heard Jesus explain firsthand that He Himself was the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5). After years of reflecting on this, John would later teach us that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:5a-6).But how is a Christian to live out the truth without walking in darkness? This question has caused many good-intentioned believers to make a costly error. This all too common but tragic mistake is that many Christians attempt to run from the darkness. At first glance, it might make sense. Run toward the light and away from anything else. This causes some Christians to alienate themselves from the world around them and is surprisingly easy to do today. We can listen to Christian music, watch Christian TV shows and movies, read Christian books and blogs, and hang out with Christian friends and neighbors. Essentially, we can pretend like the dark world around us doesn’t exist. While none of these actions by themselves are an issue, the inclusion of them at the exclusion of anything else is definitely an issue. Sadly, many Christians live this way today and defend it as the truly spiritual way to live.But this isn’t what John is explaining in this passage. Following Jesus doesn’t remove the darkness around you as any seasoned Christian can attest. All your prayers aren’t suddenly answered and your problems erased. There will continue to be darkness around us until Jesus redeems all things. Instead, the light changes the way you view the darkness around you. A more accurate way of looking at it would be to consider whether your eyes are accustomed to the light or to the darkness. In physical terms we all know that our eyes will settle for one of the two and will take time to go back and forth. Jesus invites us to retrain our eyes to the light.Specifically, having the light of Christ means we no longer live in fear of the darkness. It has no hold over us. As a result, we are able to show people that God is at work in areas that to them appear only dark. Our eyes are tuned to something greater. But it means we must willingly enter into the darkness in order to shine. It means we choose to put ourselves in sometimes uncomfortable situations. We would do well to take a cue from the social behaviors of Jesus and choose to surround ourselves with people currently far from a Christian lifestyle.This doesn’t mean we suddenly become like the darkness anymore than a dark room extinguishes a flashlight. We will always look different. But we will be there. And the light has nothing to fear from the darkness. The only way the darkness remains is if the people with the light run the other way. It’s time for Christians to stop running.