Shadow and Light

When I was a child, it seemed sun-drenched, joy-filled days often stretched out before me like an opera-length strand of exquisite pearls. My family encountered problems and worries like any other family, but my parents were careful to shield my sisters and me from many of the particular details of their adult concerns. In keeping with the simplistic, ego-centric organization so typical of a child’s mind, if the crisis, injury, or illness didn’t directly affect me, I wasn’t terribly concerned about it. 

Adult life has painted a very different picture for me from the blissful days I enjoyed in my childhood. So many things can break or go wrong in the vast world we grow to care about as adults, and they usually occur at the most inopportune times, don’t they? At times the bullets come so furiously that a new skirmish begins before we’ve even caught our breath from the last battle. 

But more often than not, we’re likely to encounter joy and sorrow co-mingled in the same short space of time. Most days we live in the midst of the tension between shadow and light, where shadow tempts us to despair and light calls us like a siren to deeper hope. While our preference is to avoid the shadows and stay perpetually grounded in the light, there is no classroom like the shadowland to teach us to find God in all things. 

Last weekend, within the span of just a few short hours, I received the joyful news that my oldest son got engaged and the sad news that my daughter had sustained yet another concussion while away at college. The shadow that fell on our daughter’s well-being threatened to eclipse the light of celebration of our son’s engagement. 

All is grace

How do we stay strong and keep the faith when a crisis threatens our joy? How do we live with hope in both the promised land and the shadowland? When you’ve just hit a grand slam, is it even possible to be at peace with a strike out?

My tendency is to rejoice in the good times and to recoil at the bad. Even the labels I associate with them pronounce my judgment over them—good and bad. 

But my training as a spiritual director and my study of Ignatian spirituality is teaching me a different way. Ignatius of Loyola taught that “all is grace,” meaning everything is a gift from the hand of God. Everything. The good, and the bad. The invitation to receive everything as grace draws us to the practice of finding God in all things, the shadow as well as the light. 

Perhaps that’s why we read these words in the Book of Job—believed by many to be the most ancient writing in all of Scripture, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” Can a shift in mindset to view all as grace help us find the presence of God in all things, the good as well as the bad?

Looking for grace in my daughter’s injury opens my eyes to see things differently. I recognize her God-given maturity and wisdom to know she needed to come home to heal, and I silently give thanks. I savor the unexpected gift of having her home for the week, and I thank God for this gift. I choose to believe God is working this for good in her life, even if I never understand it, and I am reminded of his presence with her. Recognizing unexpected disappointments as grace frees me from wanting to change things I cannot change, and invites me instead to let it be. 

I’d still prefer to receive news of engagements rather than concussions, but the practice of accepting all as grace allows me to find God in all things, and that keeps me grounded in the light.   

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