Nightlight: Fighting Night Terrors as a Spiritual Ninja

A few nights ago, I had one of my insomnia spells. They typically last a couple of nights, and then I go back to a normal pattern. I have a couple of ways to deal with them:

  • Stay downstairs and watch BBC detective shows on Hulu until I fall asleep and can go upstairs to bed without twisting and wiggling.
  • Go to bed and use earbuds to listen to podcasts until I fall asleep. For some reason listening to pastors teach via podcasts will lull my brain and body into rest. Sometimes I hear something great that catches my attention just as I start to drift…and then I’m awake and pondering for a while. That’s what happened a couple of nights ago: it was a three-sermon night. I started with John MacArthur and then moved to John Piper’s teaching on Acts 1. I had just started to drift off, when Pastor John started praying…”I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.

I woke up the next morning with that prayer still resonating, so I did a search and found it: Psalm 27:13-14.

I love the Psalms for precisely this reason: They comfort me whatever my circumstance. They also remind me of God’s character and make me wonder what my life would look like if I truly believed in the God represented in the Psalms.

Of course, I believe in God—but I when I dig deep, it seems like I’m living shallowly without recognizing the full scope of who God is. This Psalm reminded me again, so I decided to take some time with it.

Personally, I study a Psalm like I used to study and teach poetry. A clean first read—no markings and no pausing. And then I take a look at the structure. Finally—what is David (as inspired by Holy Spirit–see 2 Sam.23 for confirmation) saying to me? How is it relevant to where I am in my 21st century life as retired teacher, wife, empty nester, and grandmother?

In this case, it starts with light.

Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom shall I fear?” Here in the Old Testament, the word “light” is “owr” in Hebrew, the same word used in Genesis when God separated the light from the darkness. It’s used 122 times in the Old Testament, and almost always it’s used as literal light, not metaphorical. It’s interesting that David says that God is his literal light, as in Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light (owr) to my path.”

If I relate the Psalm to me, I must trust that the Lord is my light and so is His Word. His Word made flesh is Jesus. Jesus is God revealed—the Word of God sent to illuminate a dark world. Wow. The connections in my little brain go crazy. (This led me down a rabbit trail—or squirrel crusade, as I call my hop-scotchy mental gymnastics! I started looking at John 1 and 1 John. John plays with words so beautifully and he uses the metaphor of light regularly. Go look for yourself! I use www.blueletterbible.org as my go-to source!)

I love the light metaphor—second only to the sheep metaphor. These connective metaphors make sense to me, and help me understand spiritual connotations better.

I took this picture in the spring. I love to take pictures of old buildings and this one is going to be gone soon. Every bit of land here in Northern Colorado is taken over by fracking stations or housing developments. I got this one before it’s demolished.

Artistically, light is everything in photography! A qualifier: I’m not a great photographer, but I do understand the way light plays in a photo. I’m terrible with artificial light—I just can’t make the photos look right even with a good camera and a decent flash. I don’t have the skill, so I try to use natural light and shadows in order to capture a picture. I particularly love taking pictures in the morning—the light is still soft and the colors seem more vibrant.

Light provides contrast—it differentiates objects in the world around me. It helps me see texture and color. It also helps me recognize shadows so I get perspective. But the deep darkness makes it hard to see shapes and colors and textures. Things blur together and can become distorted. It can also make things scary.

A true story about nightlights and night terrors:

 When I was little and not so little, I was terrified of the darkness. I wasn’t scared of monsters—oh no—I was scared of bad people. I read a lot of books (and still do) that involved mystery and murder, so I think I may have had a warped perspective on actually how many bad, evil, wicked people were on Sherwood Lane in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma at any given time.

So, I needed a light at night (A Dr. Seuss book in the making!). I’m sure I drove my parents, brother, and sister crazy. I HAD to have the hall light on in order to go to sleep. And here I shudder in shame a bit–I even needed it as an adolescent.

The story: My parents worked with the youth at our church, so dad decided to turn our garage into a sort of Jesus hangout. My family and I first painted black the walls black, and then added neon words scattered randomly. I wish I could remember what we painted on those walls…I know they were Jesus-based words. In neon orange. It was the early 70’s, after all. It was cool. 

I’m not sure how this was supposed to diminish fat, but we had fun with it!

BUT there was a storage section of the garage left in tact—a walled off area, so dad could house the lawn mower, the pogo sticks we never used, and one of those strange exercise machines that had a large sanding belt like thing on it that supposedly jiggled your belly fat off. We all thought it was a hoot! It was also back there—in that storage thing. Unfortunately for my imaginative brain, there was only a flimsy, wooden door that separated me and my family from the dangerous outside world.

Dah dah DAH! (Cue scary music.)

At night, with the hall light on, my brain inevitably drifted towards burglars and murderers that wanted to steal my daddy’s collection of Tennessee Ernie Ford records, and I’d remember that flimsy, often unlocked door in the scary black room that was formerly a garage. I’d lay in bed under my furry white bedspread (it was the 70’s—it was cool) and think about the danger until finally, I’d climb out of bed, meander cautiously—and I think somewhat bravely—through the living room, kitchen, dining room, utility room and then ultimately into the black Jesus room painted with neon words. First thing I’d do was turn on the light. I wanted illumination in the darkness. I wanted to see around all the corners straight back to the flimsy door—one any decent burglar/murderer could kick in with his boots.

My heart rate increased and my spidey senses were on high alert as I eased towards that far back wall. Once I’d made it to the door, I’d already accepted my fate. It was quite possible I would be killed. It was quite possible a murderer was hiding behind the pogo sticks. It was quite possible that he just wanted bizarre exercise equipment.

I was in middle school and high school in the 70’s; this book was extremely popular!
I should never have read this book! It messed with my brain! Lesson: Avoid true crime and stick to civilized British mysteries.

Taking a deep breath, I’d jiggle the doorknob. If it was locked and there was no sign of broken glass or forced entry, I could breathe a sigh of relief and safety. (Again—I read lots of crime books. And Helter-Skelter came out during that time and totally destroyed me…as did Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth.)

BUT if I found it unlocked, I was undone! Trembling, I’d lock it and then flee back through the Jesus room/former garage into the supposed safety of my home. Convinced that the killer/burglar was hiding in the house by now, I turned on every light and examined closets and behind sofas until I made it back to my bedroom. I’d usually leave all the house lights on, so my parents probably knew about my nighttime adventures, but I needed the light to alleviate my fears. Light represented safety for me as a young human.

I still like a nightlight–not because of fear, but because I fall easily and I prefer making it to the bathroom at 2 a.m. without spraining something.

End of story and a return to Psalm 27.

We humans need light both physically and metaphysically. Light affects our moods lifting us up or diminishing us. I get really depressed if it rains or stays cloudy for a cluster of days. I think I’m part plant—probably salvia because I like the sun and bright purple.

 Light also affects us in a spiritual or metaphysical manner. We say our souls are light-hearted. Or “she has a sunny disposition.” A sort of Tigger vs. Eeyore sort of analogy comes to mind.

Maybe Eeyore is continually experiencing a “dark night of the soul.” An Eeyorian profundity: “When you come across Eeyore in the Forest and he seems even gloomier than usual, check to see if he has his tail. It may be missing.” A.A. Milne

 Sorry for the squirrel crusade. If I can use a A.A. Milne reference, I will use it. Pooh philosophy is quite profound.

 A REDIRECT BACK TO STUDY OF PSALM 27  “The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom shall I fear?” Psalm 27:1

Light plays an important role in explaining Jesus to the world. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.

In this verse, the Son of God is the light. Note the verb tenses. Jesus—the light—continues to shine. He always shines. He is the light of the world. If we “dwell” in Him, we will not walk in darkness. John 8:12.

John didn’t just decide to use the light metaphor to describe Jesus, it was also used in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah wrote: “The people who walked in darkness/have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,/ on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2. (ESV)

Just a few verses later, Isaiah prophetically reveals the light as Jesus! “For to us a child is born; to us a son is given;/and the government shall be upon his shoulder,/and his name shall be called/ Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

Most importantly, Jesus uses the “light” metaphor in describing us–His followers. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

Here’s my Small Kitchen Theology moment:

I have dark places in my soul that I don’t want anyone to know about except God. He shines His light into those places and makes them less…everything. He lights them up with His mercy. He shines His grace on me and helps me move into forgiveness. As His light, I must consciously shine (regardless how little my light may seem) to the world. I must shine to my hubster, my children, my parents, my siblings, my friends, my church, and my community. Not for my glory–but so others can recognize Christ in me and glorify the Father who sent Him and offered us salvation through Him.

I’m still working on Psalm 27. I’m looking at the word “tent” and exploring its use throughout the Old Testament. I’m finding interesting and relevant connections to the role of God’s Word as my 21st century tent. It–the Word–must be my dwelling place. 

So many metaphors run all the way through the Bible—both Old and New Testaments. Do a word search on www.blueletterbible.org It’s fun and will have you heading on your own squirrel crusade in no time.

Grace & Peace