being a light in the dark

several decembers ago, i was in a season of personal darkness. my sister in law and three nieces had been murdered only months before, i was central to my mother in law’s care, i had a two year old and a 6 month old, and was balancing being a mostly at-home mom with an “on the side” private practice. that same year a new christmas song was released. perfectly winter-quiet and lullaby-like the chorus featured a children’s choir singing three words over and over and over. those three words? all. is. well. 

the song made me sick. all was not well in me or around me and i felt stunningly un-merry. up to that point in my life december had been a highlight of the year. it has been redeemed for me since. that particular year, however, i came to understand how oddly isolated one can feel amidst glowing candles, sparkly lights, bulging mail boxes, and general cultural merriment.

this week i attended an interfaith service hosted by christian and jewish congregations that share a physical building. people of all faith traditions gathered to create a welcoming space for those who needed to express sadness, receive solace, or find hope for consolation. in the email invitation i received the rabbi and pastor stressed light as a symbol that works in most religious traditions and promised that each faith tradition represented would “bring its own form of light to illuminate and warm the gathering.” throughout the course of the hour we sang songs, lit candles, and listened to the wisdom of others through poetry and homilies.

the entire evening was a gift. the gathering was small and participants were offered just the right opportunities for engagement and solitude. i was touched by all that was shared but one analogy stuck with a particular urgency. urgency that prompts me to share it with you.

as the rabbi shared the significance of light in the jewish tradition, she pointed out that when one is standing in the beam of a spotlight he cannot see anything outside of the circle he is in. when you are in the light, it’s hard to imagine that anyone might be in the dark. not necessarily self centered, the person in the spotlight simply can’t see past the light they are bathed in.

many of us see this month as a season of nothing but light. we move merrily from holiday gathering to church to the mall to the tree where we sip cocoa and watch “it’s a wonderful life” and sigh deeply. this is not a bad thing. in fact, it is deeply good to have times and seasons of joy and tradition and nostalgia and warmth and faith and belonging and love and giving and receiving and and and... what is important, however, is to remember that these can serve as spotlights of sorts, capable of blinding us to those among us who hurt or need or who celebrate holy days different from our own. 

as you move into the final days of this year and the first of the next, make sure and step out of the spotlight now and again. gaze out and into the dark, into the unfamiliar and unknown, and look for ways to be the light for those you find there. you don’t need to create a spotlight. in the dark, even a spark can light the way.

need ideas? here are a few suggestions of easy ways to be the light.

consider those in your community who have lost loved ones during the year (including pets) or who have faced particularly difficult challenges. send them a note/email/text to tell them you are aware of the sadness they might be feeling as they face into the holidays.

cut a 3 x 5 card (or any paper) into small business card rectangles and write encouraging phrases on them such as “you are great!” “you matter!” “you made my day.” carry them in your pocket and leave them behind with the restaurant check, at the grocery counter, with your outgoing mail, or with the retail worker who helps you. better yet...send one back to the cook in the kitchen, the dish washer, or hand one to the person cleaning the bathroom at the mall.

get your side walk chalk out from summer storage and head to someone’s house (after dark) that needs encouragement. chalk words and phrases of affirmation on the sidewalk and street in front of their home or around their car.

send an encouraging, empathic, or soothing song to someone who needs comfort. you can do this through itunes by selecting “send as gift.”

carry power bars, hand warmers, or a couple of $5 mc donalds gift cards and give them away to those living in the open on your next trip downtown.

deliver simple treats (store bought cookies work just as well as home made ones) to a few folks working at gas stations, fire/police stations, or hospitals on christmas day.

light a candle and spend a few moments offering a prayer of blessing for those who have no one else to do so for them.

bend down or kneel when you talk with children. get on their level and listen fully to their answers when you ask them questions.

look people in the eye. smile. compliment them. use their name if they’re wearing a name tag. let your interaction with them be the thing that makes their day.


  1. This is fabulous, Doreen. I think I might use this as my New Years Resolution: "as you move into the final days of this year and the first of the next, make sure and step out of the spotlight now and again. gaze out and into the dark, into the unfamiliar and unknown, and look for ways to be the light for those you find there." Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. melanie...you inspire me all the time. thank you for letting me know that you resonated with this idea of light in the darkness. i am honored. thank you!