Twenty years ago, I was riding around with a friend. Let’s call him Jake, for the sake of anonymity. It was just after the death of a young lady, a former co-worker of mine. We’ll call her “Penny”. Penny died by overdose of some form of speed; she wasn’t a normal drug user, and nobody I’ve spoken with ever found out what made her start that night. Maybe she felt she needed an edge. Maybe she wanted an escape. Her story, however, isn’t the point. It was my friend.
Jake, comforting me after Penny’s death, gave me a lot of pat answers, the kind you expect to hear from someone who hasn’t faced a lot of personal tragedy, and really has no clue how loss feels. “She’s in a better place,” Jake would say. “She’s in God’s hands now.” And maybe that was true. Maybe Penny was in – is in – God’s hands. A regular church girl, both Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, Penny didn’t live the Bad Girl™ stereotype.
But I will never forget what Jake said that really brightened my day. It was a simple slip of the tongue, a mixed metaphor from a young man grasping for a means to calm the soul of someone he cared about.
“It’s always darkest before the storm.”
Look, I get it. Jake tried hard, and I remember vividly a hundred times when he was there for me, and I endeavored to do the same for him. But this… this simple slip up, it impacted me more than I could have expected. I laughed, and laughed hard. Jake’s unintentional – and nearly Shakespearean – comedy struck me in just the right way, not to get me to guffaw at Penny’s death, but at the image of even greater evil on the horizon, bearing down, as if somehow it could be more tragic than the accidental death of a young woman not even quite out of high school.
That dark humor eventually gave way as days, weeks, months, and eventually years passed, but the words stuck with me. Even when I hear the old standby - It’s always darkest before the dawn – Jake’s words are summoned from somewhere in the recesses of my brain, and I cut the sentence off, truncating it before it can be completed, then punctuating it with that single word: storm.
It’s always darkest before the storm. But what if the storm is just what we need?
What if the storm is exactly what I need?
We weather the storms of life, praying our way past them, praying for God to protect us from the lightning and the flooding, to shelter us from the fearsome thunder and the pounding hail. But aren’t we defined by how we stand through our most difficult trials, the toughest tribulations? Not on our own, that’s not what I’m asking.
Wasn’t Moses defined not by how he was raised, in the opulence of the Egyptian court, but by his years in the desert, his response to God, and coming before the Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites? And Job was defined by his steadfastness, not the wealth he possessed before it was all taken away from him. In our own age, Gandhi showed who he really was by standing against violence and hatred, working toward peace not only in his homeland but across the entire world, facing prison sentences and assassination attempts, the last of which finally killed him. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream! We were reminded this week of his dream – the very dream that, like Gandhi, led to his murder.
We are defined not by the sunny days and casual strolls through life. No, we are defined by the rocky crags traversed under cloudy skies, by how we stand when the lightning threatens to burn us to a crisp. We all have them, our storms, and some of them seem insurmountable. They aren’t. In fact, most pale in comparison to the storms others weather. I know mine do.
What are my storms? Weight and health should top the list, but lately they haven’t. Recently I announced a break from Save Simon. That situation was precipitated by a deeply painful personal experience, one a good many of you know about already. My sixteen year old daughter ran away. Don’t worry, she returned after a couple days away. She had her reasons, and once she explained them, I understood. I didn’t approve, but I understood. On the back of that situation, a death rocked my wife’s family. There’s more, but that’s enough detail for now.
Needless to say, my storms aren’t the hatred of racism, nor the blight of war. By comparison, my storms are spring showers, rather than full-on monsoons.
But they’re my storms. Just like your storms are yours. Our own storms always seem the worst, because they’re personal, because they’re happening to us. Yours to you. Mine to me.
Ours to stand through, to weather.
Death. Family issues. Health issues. Weight loss. Depression. Faith brought down to its bedrock, then shaken. Finances. These storms are pervasive and violent. So how do we withstand them? I wish I could give you a great answer, but the best I can give you is a good one. Remember back in the beginning of this article, Jake gave me all sorts of pat answers? I don’t want to do that for you, because those kinds of answers don’t really work, not in the real world.
The only answer I can give is this: find a reason to stand. It doesn’t matter if it’s faith or if it’s some purpose, find something worth believing in. My reasons are faith and family, Gandhi’s was purpose, and Martin Luther King Jr. lived for both. You must stand in the rain, stand under the thundering skies, stand when the lightning threatens to set you ablaze until you are nothing more than a pile of ash. You must stand because by standing you vindicate yourself, your faith, and your purpose.
Stand, because by standing, you show that no matter how dark it gets before the storm, you have hope for the light following close behind.