Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear. (Isaiah 58:8)
If it’s the case that you usually wake up after dawn, you wake up in the morning to a blue (or maybe white or gray) sky. The sun streams into your room, or at the very least, you are not groping for your phone in the darkness. The day goes on, becomes brighter, then finally fades into purple before going black. Then the pattern repeats. Light becomes darkness every day, signifying closure, ending, a wind-down.
But if you wake up before dawn, you find a different pattern: you wake up to darkness and wait for the sky to pale and the sun to appear. You wait for the light to break forth.
If you’ve had this experience, you know for certain that daybreak will come. There is no doubt that light will appear and the day will begin. It is certain; things will change. Night will end.
The question is: Can we exercise the same certainty when it comes to other circumstances?
When we’re experiencing physical pain or sickness that doesn’t seem to end, or feeling stuck in a place or occupation that doesn’t seem to satisfy, or struggling with anxiety or depression that won’t seem to shake off, do we feel as certain that eventually, things will change—that morning is coming?
A couple of years ago, I found myself in a situation where the promise of morning felt like a lifeline. I was on a mission trip in the bush of Mozambique with around 15 others, camping in a different village every night, traveling from place to place in a large truck, and subsisting on rice, beans and cans of grape soda purchased en route. Somewhere around the 8th or 9th day – around 1 in the morning – I woke up from a dream in which I was underwater.
On waking up, I found the dream materializing at my feet, where a gaping hole in my $25 tent (purchased on Amazon) was letting in a stream of rainwater from a midnight downpour. Pretty soon, my tent broke through, soaking me, my sleeping bag and my backpack. I crawled out of the tent, pulling on a long, soaked skirt over my shorts (legs in this part of Africa are tantamount to being naked), and looked for a place to hide from the rain with my flashlight. No city lights in this village. The darkness was palpable, although I was dimly aware that the fence around our encampment had been blown down by the rain. The rest of the camp seemed to be safe, warm and blessedly dry in their tents. I curled up into the doorframe of a tiny [locked] building and tried to wrap myself in my sleeping bag but it was too late – everything was wet, and getting wetter, and when I shined my flashlight on my body, I found myself covered in frantic, black specks – ants.
I was a little scared – after all, the walls to our camp had blown down. Who knew what person (or animal) could or would enter the camp? I was also unsure of what time it was – I knew it could have been as early as 11 p.m. or as late as 3 a.m. – I had no idea how long I would have to wait. But I wasn’t upset or hopeless, because I knew that morning would come. The rain would end and my skin would dry. The ants would leave. The sun would emerge, as would the rest of the camp. The end was definitive and sure.
So, I waited it out, cold and wet and tired as I was. I never fell asleep, but around 4:30 a.m. I got up and began to sort the contents of my backpack, laying out skirts and t-shirts to dry in the coming daylight. I paced around the camp and prayed. Finally, I watched the sun come up – hot pink and orange rising up over the flat horizon, coloring everything in yellow. For around an hour, I thought of little else besides this verse:
Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
This moment was worth the wait – in fact, it was worth the hard wait for morning. I had no sense of time, light, or shared suffering. But the joy I felt at dawn exceeded anything I could have experienced after a night of sleep.
This was a joy I had earned – and a joy I was grateful for, in its warm rays of light, sleepy, smiling faces and hot cup of “bush coffee” (hot water, chicory and sugar).
Like I knew during that dark, stormy night in the bush, I have to believe that every season of suffering has a definitive end. It’s a promise – as sure as the morning will come, so will victory, breakthrough and surpassing joy.