“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I grew up in a family where much was hidden in darkness – it seemed that there was more that I wasn’t allowed to know about or to speak of than what I was. And yet something in me sensed the darkness, and began asking questions, mostly to alleviate my internal anxiety. My questions were an attempt to bring light, so I wouldn’t have to be afraid and alone with what I was sensing in the dark. I have since learned to bless my ‘knower’ for the steady light it brings to the confusing darkness of conflict in the hard work of peacemaking.
My sense of calling as a peacemaker was born out of a long season of excruciating relational conflict. Friendships that had been close for years were torn apart with dismissal, insults, suspicion and angry words. My attempts to bring any light into the darkness felt feeble and unsuccessful. I felt the weight of destruction in every part of my body. Gatherings of dear friends that had been full of life became fraught with tension, my gut tight with anxiety as I tried to predict and prepare for the next point of conflict, so I could head it off or at least minimize the damage. As someone who loves to extend hospitality and provide a welcoming, warm space when entertaining guests in our home, I felt the impact in my protective response to isolate rather than offer myself, shutting down a part of me that brought so much joy. The critical voice in my mind was relentless, reminding me that there wasn’t enough desirable about me as a friend for anyone to fight for, I would surely be alone again as I had been so often as a young girl.
Richard Rohr says “All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.”
What if I believed that the pain I was experiencing could actually be transformative? Was it possible this was another opportunity to discover more of who I am, and what I am called to be?
How would my ability to love those who matter most to me be affected if I didn’t engage in the work of transformation?
The answers to these questions were important enough for me to enter into a new season of care with a trusted counselor. For all of the times that I have experienced profound goodness in my life, and greater understanding of my story, I am still surprised at how often I feel shame for needing help as I navigate these painful experiences. My counselor has pointed out how many of the places I am experiencing conflict today are re-enactments of childhood wounds. The young girl who desperately longed for others to help bring light into the darkness instead learned that she was alone, shouldering too heavy a burden of responsibility for bringing peace, rest, and comfort.
As I took new risks in stepping into the long-standing conflict that continued to tear apart a ministry community I deeply loved, I dared to hope. I hoped for honesty in naming harm, for genuine sorrow when considering the impact of words and actions, for a willingness to have others actively come together to change culture and bring peace, for the commitment to take seriously the call to love well, especially when love requires really hard conversations. I was encouraged, and felt a deep sense of knowing in my soul that I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I had felt called to do. The perfect set-up. You can feel it, can’t you – the smack down that we all somehow know is coming in moments like these?
The course of action that I had hoped would bring peace began to unravel, and I in turn began to pay careful attention to my heart and body’s response. As I listened, I knew, in every part of me, that it was time to let go, and grieve the loss. My story tells me the inability to bring about peace was a predictable failure – after all, who did I think I was? Love whispers, “I am here with you, I know who you are…let’s push back the darkness together.”
I am listening to Love.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.