MY BEACON, SALT MAGAZINE (SPRING 2008), BY CINDY MCDERMOTT
“Are you sure you can do this?”
Jim and I stood next to the car in the middle of the night, somewhere in the southeast. We were on our way home from speaking in Florida and had just pulled off the highway to gas up. Jim had been driving for quite awhile and was hoping to switch drivers. Hence, the question.
“Are you sure you can do this?”
We usually don’t go through so much to make a switch at the helm, but this night was different. Jim knows I don’t like driving in inclement weather, and this trip we had run into a lot of it. He had already taken over for me quite a ways back in the pouring rain. Now we had a different problem: fog. Thick fog while driving on unlighted interstates. Jim had done a long stretch of the stuff. Normally he would have gone on so I wouldn’t have to, but he was really struggling with being sick. I couldn’t make him keep going.
“Sure, I can,” I replied. Perhaps my tone sounded more confident than I felt. But I knew to me it was more a question of desire than ability. I did know I was able – slow and steady wins the race and all – and I couldn’t let Jim go on so sick in order for me to stay in my comfort (passenger) zone. So the switch was made.
I got on the highway and soon found myself behind a truck. It didn’t take me long to realize that I really, really liked traveling behind him. Focused on his tail lights I could know ahead of time the turns and twists of the road – something that I couldn’t detect well in the dark, thick fog. After all, I was driving in a strange place, in adverse conditions, and had no idea what was up ahead. I also mused to myself that a truck was the one to stay behind. Trucks are big and their lights easy to see, as opposed to cars, which are harder to see, and which don’t stick around like trucks do, but come and go off the highway. I knew if I stayed behind him I could get through with less stress and less difficulty. So my traveling buddy was chosen.
I noticed that my ‘buddy’ drove at varying speeds over time. Sometimes he went slow enough that I wanted to pass him – although I knew better not to! At other times he went faster than I really wanted to go. I didn’t understand what he was doing, but I stayed with him as best I could, knowing that it would do me well.
As time passed I became possessive of my new-found friend. Trucks and cars would occasionally pass me on the left. “Go ahead and pass me,” I thought to myself, “but don’t get between me and my truck!” My truck gave me a certain sense of security. But eventually it did happen. Merging traffic got between me and my truck and then slowed down. I soon lost sight of him. The cars spaced out and became hard to follow in the decreased visibility of the fog. After a time another truck passed me. I grabbed my opportunity and swung in behind him. On we went, when much to my surprise we came upon the original truck. We were reunited once again.
The fog seemed to wax and wane, though doing a lot more of the former rather than the latter. Sometimes all I could see was the tail lights of ‘my’ truck – not even the reflectors on his back. When was this fog going to end? After a time I just wanted to stop. I wanted to get out from behind the wheel. I wanted to be done with it. But I carried on, not because I wanted to, but because I needed to and because I was able to.
But I wondered to myself why it had to be this way. Why did we have to travel through this seemingly unending fog? It made me start thinking about life in general, because in the course of life we travel through a good deal of fog, too. Clouds of sadness or misfortune settle on us for a time. We are faced with decisions and find ourselves in a haze of confusion. Sin and the effects of living in a fallen world send us into the darkness. But it’s in those times that we grow and mature. It’s in those times that we listen more closely, learn more quickly, and trust God more fully.
And how similar is my life with God to my experience with that truck in the fog. I may feel like I have things pretty well under control in my life, but inwardly I know well that I control nothing. I don’t know the road up ahead. I don’t know what twists or turns, dips or ascents will soon be before me. I can’t see what it is that I will soon encounter. But focused on God I can get through this life safer, with less stress and difficulty. Focusing on others is not sufficient. They may be able to help me and give me advice, but only God is all knowing, all-wise. He alone is all sufficient. All those around me are limited. They, too, are driving about in the fog. We may find them untrustworthy, fleeting, or hard to see in the darkness. But God is our Sustainer, our Comfort, our Protector. Truly, He is our beacon through this world. He tells us, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)
That doesn’t mean that I always understand what He may be doing, though. Just like the truck ahead of me, I may feel like God is taking me along at varying speeds. Sometimes I may question so much what He is doing that I feel the urge to go around and try to get ahead of Him! But I know better not to. If I do that, I will find myself back in the darkness with nothing ahead to guide me. At other times I may feel He is going too fast for me. I feel like I have to slow down or stop completely and rest. But maybe at those times I don’t understand that God is trying to mold me and improve my character. Maybe I don’t understand that at those times there are things that God wants me to accomplish – important work that must be done, and that sometimes it’s okay to push myself, sacrifice and sweat for the work that God has for me to do.
And over time, often the hard way, I learn that I want absolutely nothing to get in between me and God. I defensively guard my relationship with Him against all temptation that could wedge itself between me and Him. Jealously I guard against the worries and cares of life that can separate me from Him. But, if I do falter or sin, God wonderfully provides ways to lead me back to Him. And there I am again with Him, relieved, contented and at peace.
As I go about in life I see that some times are harder than others. Sometimes the fog gets dark and thick and I may become discouraged. I may feel tired or persecuted or misunderstood. But I carry on, by God’s grace and help. I carry on in God’s way and with His work because I am able to, because it is right and necessary.
Then at other times the fog lifts and I feel a great calming and release. Ah, sweet rest! Then I must ward off laziness and self-reliance, focusing instead on the sweet fellowship with my God. I am convinced that God knows just how much we can do and how much we can handle – better than we know ourselves and gives us that rest at just the right time.
Little did I expect that in the darkness of a foggy Mississippi night, God would show me that He knows and provides for my immediate needs, and that even more importantly, He is my Beacon, which leads me through this difficult, frightening, confusing world. Just like that truck ahead of me, He guides me through, pulls me on, and enables me to accomplish great things for Him along the way. If only I will let Him.
“You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” Psalm 18:28-29