Bored one day in the school library many years ago, I picked up a biography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Through the pages, St. Thérèse introduced me to Jesus and this amazing life I could have if I entered into relationship with him. They say that teens feel emotions more intensely and more vividly than at any other age, and that made my “welcome” to the faith journey all the more impassioned, exciting, and all-consuming for me. I was completely in love with Jesus, and it was awesome.
For months I was on cloud nine as my newly discovered relationship with Jesus flourished. I felt confident in God’s love for me, and most days I felt as though I could actually feel God’s arms around me. But it didn’t last forever, and the day came that I couldn’t feel his presence at all. With all the intensity associated with teenaged emotions, I went into complete and total panic mode. Skipping class because I felt like the world was crumbling around me, I found myself sitting at the school chaplain’s door, waiting for her to come and restore what I was not at all ready to lose.
That day our school chaplain taught me a lesson that I still carry with me today. She turned off all the lights and let me sit in the uncomfortable darkness for a little while. Then she lit a match, and the light from that small match filled the room with its small flame. The light from that match was enough; we could see what we needed to see. She explained to me that, in the darkness, even a little light goes far. And so too with God. I won’t always need or have the great gift of feeling God’s all-consuming presence. Just a little, just a glimpse, can be enough.
I am reminded of this lesson every year at Advent. In our family, we mark the weeks of Advent using our angel chimes. We start each Advent lighting just one lonely candle, and the angels above it barely move. Jesus is still with us, just quieter, subtler. As the weeks go by, we journey closer and closer to Jesus’ coming, marking each week by lighting another candle and then another. The light grows steadily brighter, and the angels dance around the chimes with more and more exuberance, heralding Jesus’ approaching presence.
Sometimes on our journey, the light will be dim and we might feel like we need more light. Other times the light will burn brightly, and the presence of God will burn like a fire within us. But whatever the case, there will always be a little bit of light, if even just a spark. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). As we journey through this Advent, let us pray that, not only will we find a little light on our path, but that we might be that light for others—just as my school chaplain was for me that long-ago day in high school.