Lately I’ve found myself waiting for the dawn. For you non-morning people, dawn is the time of day when the sun starts to toss and turn in bed, sending out weak sunlight on the Earth. Sunrise is when the sun yawns and stretches and its leading edge pokes above the horizon. Dawn is twilight time for the morning sun when it is not quite ready to cast full sunlight.
For some reason with the recent Daylight Saving Time change, my body shifted to thinking I need to be up beforedawn. Dawn occurs here in Colorado now around 5:30 a.m. Uhhhh, noooo, on most days I do not need to be functioning that early.
Taking into account cloud cover, the position of the moon and the time of year, I am discovering that in my neighborhood that just before dawn, the sky turns honkin’ dark about 5 a.m. I mean, pitch black dark. Almost scary black while the sun is still blissfully catching some REM sleep.
Dawn Is Coming
In my pre-dawn awakenings of late, I am discovering anew that the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller was spot-on with his words, “It is always darkest before the dawn.” You may have heard this phrase before. Essentially, “darkest before dawn” means our circumstances seem worse before they improve. Or, things will turn for the better at some point, but we may encounter a dark, rough patch before they do.
The darkest-before-dawn sequence is what I call bending. In my Bend: When Life Dares You to Break book, I share the harrowing story of Walter, a survivor of multiple death camps in Nazi Germany. In early April 1945 the Allied forces battle closer to the Nazi encampments. Walter and his brother, William, and a remnant of Holocaust prisoners are forced on a death march to the Dachau concentration camp. We pick up their story in Bend, page 22:
Walter and William exhibit man-sized grit for fifteen-year-olds. The SS soldiers unflinchingly shoot
gaunt prisoners who can’t keep pace on the five-day march. Or the Nazi forces just kill the captives
on a whim. Bam! You think you can drink water from that stream? Bam! With each murder, the
survivors’ courage ices over.
The slush of despair sinking in their spirits.
I find no words when I picture these battered Holocaust inmates with starving limbs, bristling against
torture on the move. Hope dripping from their hearts every step.
Plunk. Plop. Plunk.
Staggering into the Dachau II (Karlsfeld) concentration camp, Walter and William realize they need to outsmart their captors one last time or else join the human carcasses heaved in train cars across from the camp.
As best as they can guess, it’s pre-dawn April 15. With all-or-nothing courage, the boys shimmy through
the camp’s electrified barbed-wire fence that is shorted out by Allied bombs. They cunningly escape
while the German soldiers cower in underground bunkers. No Allied forces free the brave Plywacki
brothers. In the dull trace of dawning light, they free themselves.
“We crawled our way across a potato field while it was gray, just before sunrise,” Walter declares with
fresh energy in his voice. “A German machine gun was shooting at us, but some Allied units started
shooting back. We eventually just stood up and ran like hell into an abandoned anti-aircraft battery.”
The panicked Nazis had already hightailed it and left a treasure trove—a bubbling pot of corn
beef-vegetable stew on the stove. “Later on in life, I ate twice at five-star restaurants, but those meals
were no comparison to that pottage,” Walter shares with a contented grin.
Where Does Darkness Go?
A new dawn emboldened fresh courage in Walter and William. Just hours before they were facing the darkest dark of impossibilities. Perhaps in this season, you or a loved one feels swallowed up in your own darkest-before-dawn episode. The doctor’s prognosis is bleak. The money is running out. The hope for a better future feels a galaxy away. I get that. I’ve been there in my own gloom…many, many times. And, I am here to say, “Dawn is coming.”
Walter’s Bend chapter is entitled “Just Before Dawn,” and I share in my introduction Celia Thaxter’s words, “The sunrise never failed us yet.” On behalf of many a weary sojourner, including Walter, William and you and me, let’s take heart. “The sunrise never failed us yet.”
In your pre-dawn waiting, I’d like to leave you with the perspective that although you cannot control dark times or when the sun will rise in giving you fresh hope—Someone else can. Job, a wealthy businessman in the ancient Middle East, encountered a soul-shattering patch of dark loss and pain. He anguished with understanding God’s goodness and loving provision. God quietly let Job and his friends wrestle with Job’s bleak times before stepping in to pose a few questions to Job.
“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth…. Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Do you know how to get there? (Job 38:12, 19-20, The New Living Bible).
We Need Not Collapse
These deep questions left Job speechless, but his perspective changed on his darkest-before-dawn season. The Creator was still in control of dawn and daylight. The Almighty was still directing when and where light and darkness goes.
My friend, it’s the same for us today. The darkest-of-dark times may settle on our lives at some point. But we need not collapse under the canopy of gloom.
If we sit still and wait—like I do in the pre-dawn darkness—we will see dawn in the distance, welcoming the sun to awaken again.
Dawn is coming. I promise. The sun has not failed us yet.
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P.S. This sunrise photo of my neighborhood was taken recently by my friend, Joann.