As a new year begins and we say goodbye to all that 2020 held, I find myself returning to the lesson of a lit candle.
For years, I stored half a dozen candles in a cabinet, always waiting for a “better day” or the “best time.” Each unlit wick told the story: at some point along the way, I began to act as if candles are only meant for parties, celebrations, or magical moments. Regular life was extra ordinary — rarely extraordinary — and so they sat gathering dust day after day, month after month.
Instead of savoring them, I saved them. And then in the middle of one of those regular days, two questions began to stir inside, refusing to let go while gently offering a new lens to look through: What if I chose to live like the ordinary of right now is beautiful? What if I slowed down long enough to appreciate the small things, to count each one as grace?
Nothing about my circumstances changed, yet everything, even the candles stored away in a cabinet, suddenly held a hint of possibility and promise. While I waited for a “better” day, grace patiently waited for me to open my eyes and accept the invitation to slow down, see, and savor the small gifts that were hidden in plain sight.
They were always there, as easy to find as a child playing hide-and-seek, the curtain shaking with giggles as tiny toes stick out underneath.
For far too long, I overlooked the beauty of the ordinary while waiting and wanting for something more, something bigger, something better. It wasn’t until I began to see there’s always meaning in the mundane and glory in what seems common that I reached for the lighter and watched wisps of smoke waft into the air.
It’s simple and it’s small, and much like using the “good china” for a regular Tuesday evening meal, lighting a candle won’t change the world. But it changes how I see the world. Maybe, in some small way, those are the same thing. Maybe, when looking through a lens of grace, the ordinary becomes extraordinary one flickering flame at a time.
Here at the beginning of a new year, after many months of collective heartbreak, change, and loss, it’s a lit candle and a now-empty cabinet that remind me of an old truth: Light is always breaking through, and even in the dark, there is One who is making all things new.
In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world — like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
The God who often chooses the small things (1 Corinthians 1:28) paints a picture with everyday household items, calling us not to hide or to worry or to wait for a better day, but to be a light in the darkness in the most ordinary of ways.
Lighting a candle is not the answer to all our problems. It won’t end world hunger, solve global warming, eliminate human trafficking, or provide a solution to a global pandemic. But when it seems like the world is going up in flames, perhaps the small and simple act of lighting a candle on a regular day is one way to push back the dark.
Maybe this right here is holy.
Maybe this is the better day, the special occasion.
No matter what this year may bring, may we savor the small things as we look through a lens of grace. Let’s light candles to celebrate, to lament, to mark this ordinary moment as worthy of beauty. After all, hope often grows in the dark, and Light always, always wins.