The first time I heard Tom Walker’s ‘Leave a Light On’, I fell in love with the song. Its own message and story in itself is beautiful, but even more touching was the message my spirit heard for me as a Christian. The song is talking about loved ones who have been trapped in the pits of drug addiction, and about leaving a light on to guide them back to a safe place. In my opinion, this is relevant not only for those who are suffering with addiction of any sort, but also for those struggling with mental illness and those who have made mistakes and lost themselves, even pushed their loved ones away.
For those fortunate enough to have not experienced losing a family member or loved one to such destruction, there are a couple of things you must know. Firstly, it is heart breaking to watch. It’s incredibly painful to see your loved one in such a struggle and to know that, ultimately, you can’t do anything to stop it. It plays on your mind relentlessly.
Secondly, it is tremendously exhausting in so many ways. Not only are you emotionally and mentally exhausted from trying time and again to help, to no avail, but it gets harder and harder to believe that you should keep trying.
Very often, someone affected by mental illness or drugs turns against the people they love in their delusion. They speak and do hurtful – sometimes unbelievably so – things to those who have only ever loved and supported them. The person you know and love changes so dramatically that you begin to wonder if they are even there at all anymore or if the person you now see is someone completely different – a stranger. It is very difficult to love a stranger at such a personal cost.
You begin to believe that the best thing for you to do, for the sake of everyone, is to let them be and let them face the consequences of their actions. And sadly, it’s often true. To protect your own well-being and safety, and that of others involved, we must sometimes pull away from someone who has taken up a destructive lifestyle.
By the time we get to this decision, it’s close to breaking point. Walking away seems the last thing we can do. But’s not. We might need to pull ourselves away from a person we love for the time being, but we must always remember to leave a light on for them.
A light that shines in darkness is a beacon of hope that guides the lost back to safety. A light is seen even if it is not followed after. In leaving a light on for those who are lost in darkness, we are putting it on display to them that we are still here for them. We are making a declaration that there is still a place for them here. We are waiting for them to return to us, and when they do they will be welcomed and loved.
It is a terrible thing for anyone to go through, to see a loved one ensnared by darkness, mistakes, illness or abuse. However, I must admit that in writing this article I am thinking particularly of those who have turned away from their faith. As Christians, it can be very hard to come to terms with our friends or family members becoming different people and turning away from us or the church because of life’s circumstances; especially if we ourselves have not lived through similar struggles and known how difficult and life changing they can be.
I have known many Christians who have turned to anger, bitterness, or prideful judgement towards those who have fallen into destructive behavioural patterns, because they cannot understand how someone they have loved dearly or even held in high respect could change so drastically. This is not the way Christ would have us react. While we may need to separate ourselves from that person to protect our own character and health, we must always act in grace.
As Christians, we have more responsibility than anyone to leave a light on at night, keep a place set at our tables, and pray relentlessly for those who are lost to return to us, and return to the loving arms of God.