Praying in the Dark


More often than not, we talk to God with the lights on. This is not to suggest that prayer is scary, that there are monsters under the pews or in our prayer closets. We don’t hold hands during corporate prayer as a line of defense. Instead, whether out of devotion, habit, or tradition, many of us pray before meals, while in worship, or before sleeping when and where the lights are on. With eyes closed and heads bowed, the mood for the conversation is set. So, maybe we don’t consider the trail of this dichotomy in Scripture or think about the theological implications of light and dark, their use as indicators of the children of God or the adversary, their meanings in liturgy and life. Maybe, that’s just me.

One morning, I was praying in my office and the lights went off. I know what you’re thinking and the electric bill was paid. The lights in my office are sensory and after a certain amount of time without movement, they turn off.

I forgot about this arrangement so I jumped while seated in my chair. Frankly, it scared me but then I remembered the timer and decided to keep still. My eyes were closed but the absence of the light brought a sense of calm.

Unknowingly, I was squeezing my eyes shut. But in the dark, I could release the tension, allow my eyes to adjust and relax. The cool darkness of the early morning was soothing. And I thought to myself, “I should pray in the dark more often.”

But, I don’t. More often than not, when my life goes dark and there is seemingly no light, no sign of Christ, I am not calm. I am dumping out drawers in search of matches, candles, and flashlights. I am reviewing my relationship with God and evaluating whether or not I am still a disciple or if I have done something that might cause God to give me the cold shoulder. I am attending every Bible study and conference, flipping through pages of the Bible frantically trying to find a word that might lighten my load or brighten the circumstances. To be sure, my outside appearance gives no hint of my inner turmoil.

And the conversation between us ends abruptly as I cannot talk and feel my way through the season of sickness, the time of grief, or the moment of loneliness at the same time. The darkness overwhelms and overtakes me. I squeeze my eyes shut, wanting to hide from reality when I am actually focusing much of my attention on it.

I would like to say that I immediately cry out in the darkness for God. But, I don’t. The darkness has just the opposite effect. I am afraid of the dark and it cripples me. I lose not only my sight but my voice.

As panic sets in, I forget that there is even a light or a switch, that if I move whether in faith or out of fear, the light will come on again. And as I learned that morning in my office, I can pray in the dark and not be afraid. I can relax and pray in the darkness, assured like the psalmist that “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139.12).

I don’t have to know the way because I know the Way and as long as I walk with God, I am never really in the dark.

smcneillReverend Starlette McNeill* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland. A graduate of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, she writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at She is also a wife, mother, and columnist with Baptist News Global, Baptist Women in Ministry, and Ethics Daily. She is a contributing author to the book Faith Forward: Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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