Seeing in the Dark: Finding God's Light in the Most Unexpected Places

Seeing in the Dark: Finding God's Light in the Most Unexpected Places

by Nancy Ortberg

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Christians are supposed to be “the light of the world.” Yet we seem to spend most of our time stumbling in the dark. We want answers carved in stone, and instead we get uncertainty. We want a clearly marked path and a panoramic view of the future, and God gives us only fleeting glimpses of what lies ahead—and just enough light to take the next step.

So what do we do?

We take the next step.

In her much anticipated follow-up to Looking for God, Nancy Ortberg takes readers on a journey that began thousands of years ago. From an ancient cave in Turkey to the California coast, Nancy highlights the often unexpected, sometimes imperceptible, yet always extraordinary means God uses to light our way through even the most painful and challenging moments in life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496406941
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 895 KB

About the Author

Nancy Ortberg served as a teaching pastor for eight years at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. During that time she led Network, a ministry that helps people identify their spiritual gifts and find a place of service in the church, and Axis, a weekly gathering for the 18- to 20-something generation.She is a founding partner of TeamWorx2, a business and leadership consulting firm that provides fast-paced, practical, and compelling sessions to leaders and their teams. TeamWorx2 works with businesses, schools, nonprofits, and churches to address issues of organizational effectiveness and teamwork. Nancy is a gifted communicator who is passionate about helping people connect what they believe with their everyday lives. A highly sought-after speaker, Nancy has been a featured presenter at the Catalyst and Orange conferences, and has been a regular contributor to "Rev!" magazine.She and her husband, John, live in the Bay Area and have three children: Laura, Mallory, and Johnny. 

Read an Excerpt

Seeing in the Dark

Finding God's Light in the Most Unexpected Places

By Nancy Ortberg, Stephanie Rische

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Nancy Ortberg
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4143-7560-1


Dark Skies

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.


THE INTERNATIONAL DARK-SKY ASSOCIATION is a group dedicated to the preservation of our globe's night sky. It works to reduce light pollution, solely for the purpose of allowing us to gaze into the "extraordinary wonders of the nighttime sky." One of the many places set aside as a dark-sky region is Death Valley. Though Los Angeles and Death Valley are only a four-hour drive apart, the contrast is so remarkable you'd think there were two different skies.

In the city, with all the competing lights, you may be able to pick out only a handful of stars overhead. In Death Valley, it's another world. The sky is smudged with bands of silver-white; dazzling twinkles radiate from millions of miles away. It is another sky, yet the same one. The dark is what allows you to see.

My first memory of the wonders that the dark sky holds is from when I was seven years old. It was the first summer of many that my mom and dad and I vacationed in the White Mountains of Arizona. Tucked against the New Mexico border, at an elevation of more than eight thousand feet, this area was dazzling. Green meadows between tall peaks, plunging river canyons, purple wildflowers, and German brown trout in the streams.

We stayed at the Sprucedale Guest Ranch, a family-owned "guest dude ranch." Actually, it was a working cattle ranch, and in the summer they supplemented their income by opening their doors to guests. We stayed in handmade log cabins that ran electricity for two hours in the morning and a few more at night. Meals were in the ranch house—unbelievable homemade, fresh creations—and the daily activities were fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. The horseback riding included finding and driving in the cattle that were feeding at the higher elevations. A couple of times during the week, in the afternoons, we were in the corral, roping and branding the calves.

The first night we stayed there, we were sitting on the front porch of our cabin. As my eyes adjusted to the dark sky, I couldn't quite comprehend what I was seeing. My dad, noticing the quizzical look on my face, said, "That's the Milky Way."

For the next few minutes we alternated between awe-filled silence and conversation as he explained to me the vast number of heavenly bodies in the sky that in LA had gone unseen.

He pointed out tiny dots of light that when connected (at least by the imagination) made up the outlines of mythological creatures the ancients had seen and named. He told me about the navigational abilities these stars and planets had given to the Polynesians, the Vikings, and sailors from many lands since. He also talked about our place in all of this vastness. Small but connected.

Stories, direction, place—all above my head, but largely unseen until it was dark. Very dark.

It took time for my eyes to adjust, to be able to see in the dark. When there is a low-light condition, the pupils automatically dilate in order to let in more light. It's like taking your first step into a dark movie theater and trying to find a seat. It's so dark you're not sure there even are seats. But just a minute or so later, with time and adjustment, you see what you could not see before.

* * *

When I was a little girl my parents split up. Not an uncommon story, you'd think, but this was in the early 1960s. I was, quite literally, the only kid in my elementary school whose parents were going through a divorce. I know, because occasionally I heard teachers whispering to one another as I walked down the hallways, "That's her; she's the one." There was no unkind tone—it was just such an anomaly.

I was in third grade, eight years old. Some of my strongest and most painful memories from that time were the fights before they split. The yelling was awful, and I would alternate between trying to push my way between them to get them to stop and running to the den and turning the television volume up loud enough to drown out the noise. The noise terrified me because when it went on long enough, one of them would leave.

One parent would drive away in the car, and the other, probably exhausted from the ordeal, would collapse into bed. But that's not where I went. I crawled onto the kitchen counter and peered through the curtains, watching and waiting for the parent who had left to come back.

It's remarkable how vivid that experience is to this day. My recall, not always my strongest suit, is impeccable when it comes to those evenings. I can still feel the cold turquoise counter tiles on my shins. I can picture the fabric of the kitchen curtains with their teakettle design. The thick brass hooks on the curtains made a peculiar sound against the rod when I pushed them aside, searching for the familiar headlights that would mean my mom or dad was home.

When I saw the car pulling into our one-lane driveway, I would return the curtains to their closed position and run to my bed, pretending to be asleep and listening for the turn of the kitchen door. Once the parent who had driven away was back, I felt such a strong relief that sleep would overtake me.

Interestingly, my parents ended up reconciling a year later, and until the day my father died in 1990, they were together. But it took me years of counseling, talking through things with friends, and wrestling with God to understand the full impact all of this had on me. There were long seasons, especially through high school and college, when I found it laughable that it had affected me at all. Perhaps those years of denial explain why it took so long before this issue bubbled to the surface and I was finally forced to look at it.

There's one other thing I remember from this time. An occasional, faint whisper. Not even a whisper, really—more a soul presence. Every once in a while, on that cold tile counter, along with the terror I felt, there was an accompanying presence—a sense that I was not as alone as it seemed. The small awareness that I was not on my own.

* * *

In Hebrew, the word psalm means "book of praise." The problem is, once you open the book of Psalms, you realize that well over half of the chapters are psalms of lament. Hardly truth in advertising ...

So the one book of the Bible that invites us into its pages by promising birds chirping and flowers blooming is filled with words like despair, alone, wicked, and loathing. Far more plentiful than the verses that remind us to rejoice and praise are those that admit to distance from and doubts about God.

Imagine if your responsive reading in church next Sunday were taken from Psalm 58:

Break the teeth in their mouths, O God.... Let them vanish like water that flows away.... May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along, like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.

Or Psalm 88:

I am set apart with the dead, ... whom you remember no more. ... You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. ... I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. ... I cry to you for help, ... Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? ... Darkness is my closest friend.

All the voices speaking aloud, in unison. Hard to picture, isn't it? But these verses are the holy words of Scripture coming to us. The implication is clear: right alongside the psalms of praise—good news, triumph, and joy—are the harsh words of woundedness, fear, and despair. Perhaps they even imply that the way to praise is through lament, not by avoiding pain or pretending it doesn't hurt so bad.

In fact, before you read any further, go back to the two passages above and read them aloud. Read them slowly, deliberately, and with meaning.

Well? There are some seriously harsh sentiments in there. It's raw, it's rude, it's childish—it's the Bible. As you read these passages aloud, can you see that there has been some time when these words were an honest commentary on your own life? Maybe that time is now.

Either way, the writers of the psalms are trying to tell us that it's all part of the journey. But what happens is that we don't like that message, so we plaster on a strained smile and talk about victory and peace, when neither is around for miles. The very fact that we never do responsive readings in our churches with these kinds of passages points to our denial of the hard stuff and our superficial comfort with frosting and quick, easy answers as a substitute for the rough edges of faith.

Someone once said that faith is not a personal possession until you have suffered. That person understood that the very nature of faith requires the grit and courage to be in the dark so you can eventually see in the dark. Then faith becomes faith.

To get to the perspective reflected in Psalm 58 and Psalm 88, there has to be some gut-wrenching pain. Betrayal. Woundedness. Fear. Terror. Anger. Fury. Jaw-dropping disappointment. Loss. Death. Separation.

A good friend of mine lost her child recently. Unspeakable, seismic sadness. When she called, I listened in stunned silence as she told me what had happened. My mind was racing, trying to comprehend the reality of it and thinking about getting a plane ticket as soon as I hung up the phone.

I had received the phone call just as I'd pulled up to our house, and I sat in my car long after we hung up, crying in disbelief and pain for my friend. For the next few days, before I left for the funeral, I wondered, Who else?

As I walked through crowds at the store and went to meetings at work, I thought, Who else near me has been through this kind of horror and buries it below the surface because no one wants to see this kind of pain up close? Were there scores of people I was rubbing elbows with who were a part of this club that no one wanted to join, but I just couldn't see it?

I remember when one of my friends had a miscarriage, she was amazed by the women who came out of the woodwork with "me too." She'd had no idea. One of the rules of membership was silence until another member was recognized.

At the funeral, I watched my friend's face. It was taut and worn, somewhere between aging and lost. I had known her face since we were in junior high school. We had been children together ourselves. Now she had lost hers. Lost. And she looked like a toddler who realized for the first time that it was possible to lose your favorite toy or even break it, and no one—no one—could find it or fix it. Terror and unspeakable sadness.

* * *

I wish there were another answer. Sometimes you just have to sit and stay in the darkness. Sit and stay when every cell in your body is telling you to move and medicate. Sit and stay, wait. Let the dark sky envelope you, because if you move too quickly, your eyes will never adjust, and if they never adjust, they will never see. At least they'll never see what they are supposed to see.

Sit and stay and wait. Let the talking of friends subside, let the silence deafen, let the pain overwhelm, and wait. If you don't, you will miss it. You will not hear the whisper or see the flicker. You will be moving and unable to receive what you need most.

There is a new reality that takes time to see. Not exactly a new reality, but a more real one that only comes into focus in silence. A reality that is best seen through eyes filled with tears. A seemingly dark sky, which after a bit of time reveals the magnificent Milky Way.

In the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested, a period of darkness was beginning. "This is your hour—when darkness reigns" (Luke 22:53). And between that moment and the morning of the Resurrection, there was deep darkness. A darkness during which Jesus kept mostly still. There was no fight. He gave Herod "no answer" (Luke 23:9). While Peter sprang into action, chopping off an ear and vehemently denying he knew Jesus, Jesus was still. He went where he was led. He knew the darkness had started, and he let it envelop him. Perhaps because he knew that through this darkness was the only way to the light.


Excerpted from Seeing in the Dark by Nancy Ortberg, Stephanie Rische. Copyright © 2015 Nancy Ortberg. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1 Dark Skies, 1,
CHAPTER 2 The Shadow of Death, 11,
CHAPTER 3 Through the Cracks, 23,
CHAPTER 4 Before the First Rays, 31,
CHAPTER 5 A Box Full of Darkness, 39,
CHAPTER 6 Dark Night of the Soul, 49,
CHAPTER 7 The Paradox of Darkness, 59,
CHAPTER 8 Awakening, 71,
CHAPTER 9 In Between, 81,
CHAPTER 10 Before the Dawn, 93,
CHAPTER 11 A Single Beam, 101,
CHAPTER 12 Glimmers, 113,
CHAPTER 13 Light, Darkness, Light, 123,
CHAPTER 14 Light Finds a Way, 129,
CHAPTER 15 Benediction, 141,
NOTES, 153,

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