Sometimes, if you’re standing in a city at night you will look up and realize that you cannot see the stars. They’re crowded out by all the other lights–lights that appear bigger and brighter. These street lamps and house lights seem to be lights that really do light the world while the stars just softly twinkle in the distance, providing a little bit of atmosphere but otherwise not doing very much for anybody.
I sometimes worry about being a star trying to shine in a brightly lit city. I sometimes worry that anything I could offer to the world will be overlooked due to the brightly shining lights of those around me, lights that appear to be bigger and brighter than my own. It’s like light pollution of talent. How can my small little twinkle compete with the brilliant shine of a halogen bulb or a meteor shower? Sometimes the question plagues my days; sometimes it even keeps me awake at night.
The story goes that Jesus once reminded his followers that lights do not belong under baskets. Lamps are to be placed on lampstands, where they can provide light to an entire room. The meaning is clear: it takes courage to provide light in a dark place. It takes courage to stand out and let your light shine, as the children’s song goes.
I’m discovering that sometimes it also takes courage to let your light shine in a place that is already populated with shining lights. Sometimes it can feel like your little light (emphasis on little) is too small to matter at all, not because the world is too dark but because it’s too light. It’s so easy to become convinced that our talents or contributions are just too small to matter when people are curing ebola and fighting hunger in big, newsworthy ways. For those of us who care deeply about the world and the things God is doing in it, this is a singularly depressing feeling. It is enough to make a person want to turn off all those other lights so that we can shine through just a little.
Of course, we know that’s ridiculous. We know that no good comes from running around blowing out other people’s candles. We know that when Jesus said not to hide our lights, he also meant that we ought not smother and discourage the lights of those around us. The kingdom of God is not Game of Thrones. We do not want to be the kind of people who can only shine in competition with others.
So perhaps the only answer is just to keep shining no matter how big or small we may feel. Whether my light is distinguishable from everyone else’s may be beside the point. Whether my light shines as I masterfully prepare dinner for 500 in the local shelter or shines as I smile and gently hand a dollar to the hungry man standing on the street corner, it is still a light in a hurting world. Perhaps in our earnest desire to do good in the world, we put too much emphasis on letting our light shine when the emphasis is on letting light shine. Maybe the goal, after all, is for a pool of light to spill out, blending together with no sense of where it begins or ends until we are all illuminated and illuminating in one giant display of radiance.
Wherever you are today, may you have courage to let your light shine.
P.S. Mere minutes after I pushed “publish” on this post, my inbox let me know that Esther Emery had a new post. I read her blog and was simultaneously filled with inspiration and envy because she wrote about almost the exact same thing. More to the point, I like her post better. I like hers so much I didn’t want to share it because I don’t want others to know she’s out there inspiring more people in bigger ways than I am–and doing it from a yurt. (I live in the suburbs and think I’m pretty special for growing vegetables. Who can compete with this?) But then God reminded me about baskets, lights and not smothering other people’s candles so here it goes:
If this post of mine resonated with you, check out this one. You’ll love it. I’m Not As Big a Deal As I Used to Be, Thank God