A Dark Tunnel – Blackness Makes the Light More Wonderful 

A Dark Tunnel Pic

The Riehl family trekked through a dark tunnel at the Hiawatha Bike Trail, with only headlamps to help them see. But when they came to the light, it was all the more wonderful for having traveled through the pitch-dark. (Photo provided by Bethany Riehl) 

 

By Bethany Riehl 

Happy September, friends! How are you doing? If your life is connected to the school calendar in some way (student, parent, faculty, or all of the above), have you found your groove yet? 

Although I’m writing this to you while still in the throes of summer, I can tell you for certain that at the moment you’re reading this I have most certainly not found my groove in this new school year. In fact, I’m probably looking back at pictures of our summer adventures as I was this morning and dreaming about camping. 

In July my husband and I were able to take the kids camping in Northern Idaho and while there we hit the Hiawatha Bike Trail. If you haven’t heard of the Hiawatha, here is a brief description from their website: “a bike or hike trail is 15 miles long with 10 train tunnels and 7 sky-high trestles.” Before you get too impressed with our athletic abilities, let me tell you it’s mostly downhill and at the end you take a shuttle right back to the top where your car is parked. 

On the morning of our scheduled ride, I only had a collection of facts gathered from the website and friends to give me an idea of what we were heading into. We had borrowed headlamps from friends for the tunnels, but still I didn’t quite grasp what that meant until the woman checking us in let us know that the first tunnel was at the very beginning of the trail and was the longest – measuring 1.66 miles. 

As we entered that tunnel, our family of five in a line – Mr. Riehl in front, myself in the back, our not-so-little-anymore-ducklings in between – I experienced dark unlike I’ve ever known. Our headlamps barely cut into the thick, black mist that enveloped us. We had arrived when the trail opened, so for most of that first trek, it was just us, our seemingly insufficient headlamps, and the cold, dark, drippy echoes of the old train passage. 

Do you know how long it takes to bike 1.66 miles? For a passenger in the trains that used to run this trail it’s a blur. One minute passing from light to dark then back to the light again. Just enough to look up from your book to ponder a thought or two before going right back to reading. But for me that morning it was a fascinating, and okay I admit it, slightly terrifying if I let myself think about it, stretch that seemed like it would never end. We stayed quiet for the most part. The echo of the tunnel distorted our words, so talking was out. Feeling confident we were alone I tested the acoustics and sang for a while, mostly to embarrass my kids. 

Sometime after the halfway point, I heard echoes behind me. A large group was making its way toward us, and as they gained speed, the tunnel brightened. Suddenly I could see much more of my surroundings. I gazed in awe at the arch of the vaulted ceiling, full of chisel marks and divots where rocks had been removed or blown out well over a century ago. I saw the trenches on either side of us, carrying water out of the tunnel, and the cold, drippy walls. 

But then they passed, and we were in our mostly-dark world again. 

We pedaled on, shaking our hands every so often to warm them up, not seeing the light, but knowing it must be close because the echoes of the large group were gone. 

We felt the light before we saw it. The air turned warmer; the fog became palpable, more humid than vapor. And then – light! Glorious, wondrous, dappled light. 

We exited that first tunnel to the beauty that Montana and Northern Idaho are famous for. Pine and mountains and waterfalls and creeks. Deer and chipmunks, hawks and…well, praise God we didn’t see the bears, but of course they were out there. Somewhere for God alone to enjoy. 

Endless views of a world so much bigger than we realize; created by a God that is much, much bigger than we could ever grasp. 

We biked the next 14ish miles in awe – of the crisp mountain air, the mountain peaks layered one after another, the impressive trestles that are indeed sky-high – going through more tunnels – some short and sweet, a few long and intimidating, but none like the first. 

Hours later we climbed on the shuttle and marveled as our charming driver played tour guide and entertained us with the history of the world we had just enjoyed and took us back to the top in less than 30 minutes. She stopped at the base of the first tunnel and told us we would be going back through to finish the trail. 

This time, however, traffic was heavier and going both ways. It was much brighter and louder. In no time at all we were loaded up and headed to picturesque Wallace, Idaho for lunch. 

So why am I telling you about this, dear Reader, and what does it have to do with Christian living? 

Sometimes in our walk it can feel like we’re in a long, dark tunnel. We have the Light of the Word, but it just seems like it’s not penetrating our hearts as it should. It’s cold and dank and quiet and lonely. We’re doing the work, reading the Word, praying, living as best we can on this foreign soil, but the Light and Hope feels…far. 

“How long, O LORD?” we may cry. “Will You forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1) 

I don’t have an easy answer for that one. But looking back on that time in the tunnel brings to mind something my dad said to me in the midst of a dry season: “Keep praying, keep reading His Word. We walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).” 

We keep on pedaling, so to speak, through the dark, relying on the light He provides, knowing who He is and that our feelings are not the most reliable source of our true state. 

I knew that, as long as we kept on, we would not be stuck in that tunnel forever because friends that had done the trail before and the experts that checked us in told me so. In the same way, the Bible assures us of God’s faithfulness to His people. Over and over we are reminded that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 145). Our feelings may say the Light isn’t enough in the darkness, but it’s not true. 

Our feelings may say that we’re alone or He’s left us, but it’s not true. 

David said with full confidence in Psalm 40:11, “You, O LORD, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me.” 

Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” 

I didn’t hesitate in that tunnel because I had faith in what was coming. And when we finally emerged? Oh, friends, what beauty! What warmth and joy and awe. 

So too, the hope the redeemed have, if not in this life, for certain in the one to come. An eternity with our Creator in a land with “no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22). 

Would the trail have been beautiful and enjoyable without the tunnels? Sure. But those times of darkness emphasized the times in the light and brought such a delightful adventure to the whole experience. 

Don’t get me wrong, friends. There are some “dark tunnels” in our lives that we could most certainly do without thankyouverymuch, and I don’t mean to trivialize the ones in yours. This is an imperfect analogy. 

However, in the same way, these dark days will emphasize the Light that is to come. And He is coming. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). 

I want to add one more imperfect analogy to the experience. That tunnel? It was much less intimidating on the way back when it was full of people. Our tiny headlamps all joined with one another to create nearly full illumination, as opposed to when the five of us trekked through on our own. 

You need the Church, Christian. We all do. The good, the bad, the imperfect, the messy, and the wonderful. We are not meant to do this life alone and because our God loves to purify and shape us, we need to do this life with the imperfect Church. He created us this way. Alone, we’re a small, weak light in a pitch-black world. But together? Pressing into His Word, collectively learning and growing and living out the one-anothers and praising and making much of our big and wonderful God? By His strength and for His glory? 

Oh, what a mighty blaze we shall make. 

 

Bethany Riehl lives in the Treasure Valley with her husband, three kids, and one super chill dog. She writes articles and fictional novels when she can, and her one desire is to point others to the love and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Her books can be found on Amazon or at your local library…after you request them to be in stock, of course. 

 

 

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