Every fall, my family becomes a little obsessed with candles, especially anything pumpkin spice flavored. We use a multipurpose lighter, with a colorful handle and a long metal nozzle, to light them. Most of our candles are encased in glass jars. I’ve noticed that when I use the lighter to touch a wick and spark a candle to life, my hand tends to shake. The metal hits against the glass and makes a rattling sound. When my hand shakes and the glass rattles, it looks and sounds like I’m afraid to light the candle. While I’m not anxious to light the candles in my home, I admit that sometimes I fear sharing my metaphorical light with the world.
Jesus applied the analogy of light to us, his followers. He said, “You are the light of the world. … Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt. 5:14-16. I don’t always want to be the light. I hesitate to light my lamp in the first place, or I may feel content to put my light under a bowl and hide it.
It can seem daunting to put oneself out there and point to Christ. Who am I to shine a light that glorifies God in a respectful and righteous way? When I try to be the light, I may feel the pressure to achieve perfection. And while perfection is impossible, my efforts to put on a show of perfection may become consuming and thwart my ability to do anything good.
If I’m the light that means other people will pay attention to what I say and do, which may engender criticism. I don’t always respond well to criticism or negative comments. I may start to doubt my actions or words when I hear negativity. I don’t want to argue with or defend myself against every dissenter. Sometimes it’s easier to believe that there are enough lights out there already shining. Nobody will miss my light if I hold back. What could one more light really add, anyway?
At the root of all my misgivings about being the light is fear. Fear of mistakes, fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear that I won’t make a difference. Jesus said we are the light of the world, but that feels overwhelming for an individual. But what is the alternative? If I let my fears dictate my choices, I will keep quiet, do nothing, and depend on others who may or may not act.
Perhaps we should think more about the immediate effect of hiding our lights. According to Jesus, if we do not shine our lights, our houses will remain dark. Our houses are full of people who depend on us and trust us. If we decide to hide our lights, we will miss out on sharing the vision and warmth that our lights can provide to them.
But if we illuminate our own homes, then we may inspire the other members of our families to shine their lights as well. Together, we can expand our scope of influence from our houses to our communities. The wider community thrives if everyone contributes their own unique light.
Being a light that shines for God is not necessarily easy, but we need not carry the whole burden. We cannot let fear keep us in the darkness. If we all shine our individual lights in our small spheres, then we will naturally band together and shine the light of God for all to see. Then, we can be the light of the world, just as Jesus suggested.