I remember growing my first cress from seeds. Just keep them watered and close to light, I was told. They eventually sprouted. I felt so successful! But that was nothing compared to what just happened on the moon. No, wait, correction — the dark side of the moon.
The first ever seeds have just sprouted on the moon, on the side that is always in the dark, facing away from earth. China’s economy might be slowing down, but its space ambitions are not, because it was from its newly arrived moon lander, Chang’e-4 mission, that these cotton sprout seeds came to life.
It’s hard to grow anything in the dark! Humanly speaking, I sometimes wonder whether we can still grow in the dark? I’m talking about the darker times in our lives, when things are hard, when we experience sadness or loss, depression, or an unexplained low. Some describe this as a kind of spiritual darkness affecting our emotions and our belief in whether that “someone” is watching over us. Can we grow in these darker times?
Spirituality can sometimes be compared to a seed. Something that comes with the potential to grow and flourish, producing all kinds of fruit. This is a concept of the Christian faith: spirituality is compared to a planted seed. Can this seed still grow in the dark? There’s good news! One of the Christian messages is the seed of spirituality can grow in the dark — some would argue that you will grow more in hard times, producing a more fruitful yield.
This means each of us have real hope. Maybe in a time of pain and loss, you are asking whether there is any point in life. But there is hope. One of the biblical poets expresses it like this:
Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.
— Psalm 126: 5-6
I don’t want to sound glib or simplistic, because some circumstances are complicated. But in times of darkness, spiritually speaking, you can still grow in ways that may not be obvious or expected.
The hard times we experience are not meaningless or hopeless. But leaving faith to one side for a moment, I recently read a blog by Andrew Montgomery who shared some of the positive companions that walk with us through all the harder times life throws at us — the times we trip up and fall.
New experiences shape our brains and thinking — they open new neuro-pathways helping us approach future problems differently. We can discern our patterns of behavior in previous difficult times, but this time we are cognitively and emotionally more equipped to deal with the problem. This lowers toxic stress and means we have gained precious wisdom.
Wisdom allows us to draw upon our experiences and expertise, applying them in the most effective way in a novel situation. Like an experienced chess player who sees danger a few moves ahead, our past learning in hard times can inform us to make better choices.
“Forgive others – if it doesn’t feel good right away, it’ll feel good in its own time.” (As my blogger friend told me). I think he is right. He goes on to share an important person to forgive — yourself! This way we let ourselves out of the emotional prison we have put ourselves in and allows us to move into our future unfettered. We all need to give ourselves grace. When we come out of a hard time, we learn two things: that things can change, and we are not defined by our failures. We learn to forgive, and that forgiveness becomes easier to evoke in future experiences.
Sometimes the hard times have a refining effect — by default they declutter our lives of things that often don’t really matter — things we have to let go because our attention is focused on surviving the crisis. This happened to Steve Jobs when he was kicked out of the Apple company in the early years. He explains he went through a period of creativity like no other, also meeting and marrying his wife. After five years, Apple asked him to come back, his drive and creativity building the tech giant we know today.
The clear-out from a walk in the wilderness often helps us reprioritize, stopping us becoming a slave to things that are not true to our values. Harder times create space. Perhaps they leave space for miracles.
And some say one of those miracles is the best possible companion. It is a spiritual companion. A companion talked about in a song composed by a man who knew the comfort of this companion’s help. The lyricist was a certain king called David, and this is what he says:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23: 1-4