When we were kids we took lots of long road trips. It seemed we always lived far away from our relatives, and so every time we went to visit them, it was a LONG drive. Every new state we would enter, Daddy would call out “Hey, children, welcome to…” you fill in the blank. Nearly every state east of the Mississippi has been at the end of that sentence.
There were a lot of fun games we would play in the car to fend off boredom, and I don’t mean video games. We didn’t even have a tape player in our van back then. Mom would sometimes bring the boom box from home with fresh batteries in it, but more often we would find other things to occupy our time. We would play the “how many different states can you find license plates for” game, plus a random collection of others. But not matter what game we were in the middle of, everything stopped when we approached a tunnel. Daddy would yell “Tunnel coming up, get ready.” We would all start taking deep breaths, preparing our lungs, and then we were inside…and we were all holding our breath.
The goal, obviously, was to make it through the tunnel without breathing. Some were easy, some were impossible, and some were really close. On those, Daddy would slow down or speed up, depending on whether he was feeling helpful or mean. We would roll down our windows, not so we could breathe the tunnel air but so we could hear the echoing of the horn as Daddy blasted it the entire way through.
In my childhood, tunnels bring good memories, fond thoughts that make me smile and long to be able to go back to the carefree days of car trips and dandelion wishes.
But tunnels are totally different to me as an adult.
“There’s a light at the end of this tunnel.” “The darkness won’t last forever. You’ll break through into the light.” “Every stage ends. Just hold on, you’ll make it.” “This won’t last forever. It will get easier, brighter, with time.” “Look toward the light at the end of the tunnel. You can do it.”
I have heard, and probably spoken, so many tunnel metaphors that I could go on forever with them. No matter what the topic, no matter what the trial, if you are in a hard place, there is a tunnel metaphor for you! And I was thinking just the other day that there’s something wrong with the whole thing. It’s flawed, completely based on misinformation.
Why, you ask? Well, here is an example of what I mean.
When you have a new baby, and you feel like it is quite possible you will never sleep through the night again and instead you will always be so delirious that you can’t remember which expressions your face is supposed to make in response to which conversation. People tell you “This won’t last forever. Just hang on.” So you do, and they are right. The baby starts sleeping, and you get to sleep, and you breathe a sigh of relief. And then the baby turns 2, or however old they have to be when you move them from a crib, and they realize they are no longer trapped in their bed and can get up any time they want. So the not sleeping thing starts all over again as you chase them through the house every night, or lie awake wondering if that noise you heard was the furnace kicking on or your child jumping off the sofa.
Or you get pregnant, have a baby, and you feel like you will never fit into your favorite jeans again. People tell you, “Just wait, you’ll get there.” So you wait, and work out, and eat smart, and eventually (hopefully) you do fit back in those jeans…and then you get pregnant again.
Or you think your son will never learn to read, and you’ll go crazy trying to teach him…and people say “this too shall pass.” And it does…and then the next son in school age, and you have to do it again.
I could go on like this forever. Seriously, forever. I know all these examples are mommy specific, but I AM a mommy, so these are the best ones I can think of. But if you take a minute, you can probably plug in just about any other trial/hard time/tunnel, and you will see what I am saying.
What am I saying?
THE TUNNELS DON’T END. I mean, one might, but then another one follows right on its heels. If you’re holding your breath waiting to make it through a dark hole in the ground, you MIGHT get a few seconds to breathe and put your sunglasses on and turn off your headlights, but then BAM, you’re holding your breath again.
I feel like I keep waiting for the tunnel to end, but I hardly get to enjoy when it does because I am immediately tossed straight into the next one. And sometimes there is no break, sometimes the tunnels are connected.
I was in the middle of the “new baby who won’t sleep” tunnel (my youngest was 5 months old) when we got a call that my sister, who was a missionary in Malaysia, had collapsed and been taken to the hospital. Talk about holding your breath. We waited, we prayed, we got good news, then bad, and after 3 days of holding our breath, she took her last one on this earth…and then the REAL tunnel started. I am actually pretty sure that we fell through a hole in the first tunnel straight into a tunnel UNDERNEATH it. You can’t hold your breath through the tunnel of grief…its one that doesn’t end. It just doesn’t.
I have a point, and it’s not a depressing one, I promise. While I have come to the conclusion that the tunnels never end, I have cheerful news as well. First of all, since you know it’s mostly tunnels and only a few moments of fresh air…you can stop holding your breath. That way we aren’t all going through our days red faced, seeing spots and scaring our kids or co-workers. Stop waiting for this stage, this trial, this pain to end so you can get on with your life. THIS IS YOUR LIFE!
Second: Quit asking where the light is! HE IS WITH YOU IN THE TUNNEL!!!!!!!! “The light shines IN the darkness” (John 1:5) Not “the light shines at the end of the darkness” but “THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS!!!!!” Jesus is with you in your tunnel. I know, because He is with me in mine.
Third: There is an end to all these tunnels of life, but not IN this life. If Jesus is the light (and He is, go read all of John chapter 1) then we only reach the light when we reach His presence. We can have the light with us in the tunnels, but we are really looking forward to the END of all the tunnels, when we hear Him say “Well done.” Hopefully we won’t all be gasping for breath when we get there. Hopefully we will realize that we can breathe in the tunnels, and hold onto the light that is WITH us.
Because, and this is the very best part of my realization, when we have the light WITH us in the tunnel…the tunnel isn’t really dark anymore. It isn’t something we have to live through. We can just stay CLOSE to the light, we can stay IN the light, and then we will start to REFLECT the light to all the people around us who are holding their breath and racing through the dark.
Its all dark this side of heaven. But the light shines in the darkness. Don’t run toward the end of your tunnel, run to the Light who is there with you in it.