darkness – adjective \ˈdärknes\

: having very little or no light
: not light in color : of a color that is closer to black than white
: of a color
: having more black than white
: not light

Recently, I was doing a little reading about the science of sleep since all too often I wake up throughout the night and can’t get back to sleep. Sometimes, I even have trouble going to sleep, especially if I have dozed off downstairs on the couch then walk up to bed. Although I couldn’t even keep my eyes open long enough to find out who got voted off The Voice, minutes later I’m wide awake flipping through email and Facebook on my iPhone while Steve quickly drifts off next to me.

I know what the problem is. Actually, there are two.

My problem with waking up in the night has to do with the number of times I get up to go to the bathroom. Once, I consulted my doctor about this, wondering if there was some new medicine or procedure that could help. His advice? Stop drinking after dinner. Yeah, right. “Seems so simple when you say it like that,” I told him.

The bigger problem with my poor sleeping habits, though, is light. Our bodies’ waking and sleeping patterns are intricately connected to light and dark. Although some of us can sleep during the day and many of us have tricked our bodies into staying up well past dark, light helps set our master internal clock, it affects our bodies’ production of melatonin, and it can ruin a good night’s sleep if you get too much at the wrong time.

Darkness is what we need as we close the last pages of the day. Darkness cues our minds and bodies to slow down, shut off, rebuild, repair. Darkness makes deep, restorative sleep possible.

Why, then, do I so often avoid the darkness?


Since I was young, I’ve been afraid of the dark. My parents left the hallway light on for years so that I could go to sleep at night.

Darkness also is the loneliest time; at night, I am more prone to worry, to excessive thinking, to anxiety and fear. When I jar awake in the night from a dream or a sound, I instantly grab my iPhone, shining the bright blue beam into my eyes and sifting through emails and text messages and notifications to find connection and assurance that all is well in my world.

Culturally and spiritually, darkness represents evil, secrecy, deception, and ignorance. It can also represent laziness and avoidance—that’s why it’s tempting to keep the blinds drawn and the covers up in the morning. When I feel like I can’t face the world, as long as it’s dark, I don’t have to.

I’ve been carrying these notions of light and dark, good and bad, with me for a while. But during Lent, when I gave up looking at my cell phone in the night and that small increase in darkness gave me 40 plus days of more restful sleep, I began to realize that maybe the darkness can be good sometimes.

Lent, of course, is a dark season all its own, a time of wandering through the wilderness and looking inward for repentance. During Lent, the vestments and linens of the clergy and sanctuary are dark or dim. The cross and other decorations are covered on Maundy Thursday as the final days of Lent move us into the ultimate darkness of the sealed tomb of Christ. We don’t stay in the darkness, though. The bright light of Easter comes every year. But with each new Lenten season, I understand and appreciate the role of darkness a little more.

Maybe that’s why last weekend at our oldest son’s high school musical, my favorite song from their performance of The Addams Family was the closing ensemble, “Move Toward the Darkness.” The whole macabre comedy was entertaining, but I nearly cried as I listened to the lyrics of that final number:

Move toward the darkness
welcome the unknown
Face your blackest demons
Find your weakest bone
Lose your inhibitions
Love what once was vile
Move toward the darkness and smile

Move toward the darkness
Don’t avoid despair
Only at our weakest
can we learn what’s fair
When you face your nightmares
Then you’ll know what’s real
Move toward the darkness and feel

Move toward the darkness
Conquering your pain
Let each foreign forest
Offer you its rain
Only at our lowest
Can we rise above
Move toward the darkness and love

Light comes in the morning, but first we enter the darkness of night. And live.

What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.

Photo by Transformer18, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons. Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.