What to Do When Your Path Is Covered in Darkness and Fog

I’m surrounded by darkness and fog.

Autumn drifts closer—the air is getting cooler, the leaves are getting drier, the crows are getting louder, and the days are getting shorter. Which means, if I’m going to get in my bike ride before the morning carpool, I have to begin in the dark.

On this particular morning, a fog has descended, reducing visibility to almost nothing, and I’m on a bike path, surrounded on all sides by forest. A small headlight illuminates the path ahead of me, but it cannot penetrate beyond a few feet.

I’m surrounded by darkness and fog, and it’s a metaphor for everything.

purpose

Photo Credit: denbelitsky (Bigstock)

As my feet push the pedals on this dark path, I wonder if maybe I should have just stayed in bed, where it was safer. Similarly, while I’d slumbered the night before, the doubt had crept back in, unbidden—doubt about this passion of mine, this writing thing. Six years of words on a page. Three-hundred-some blog posts. A book. I wonder if my words and I should have just stayed in my heart, where it is safer, where blood, sweat, and tears may not end quite so badly.

In every life, there comes a dark morning when you question the path you’ve chosen—the decisions that have left your life decidedly undecided. It’s the kind of morning that can turn into depression, if you have too many of them in a row.   

As I breath heavy, my eyes strain to see beyond the reach of my headlight, wishing for just a little more warning about what lies ahead. In my life, too, I keep straining the eyes of my mind, hoping for some indication of what is to come on this path I’m traveling.

In every life, there comes a dark morning when you worry about what lies ahead, when you strain your mind to see the future that is cloaked in fog. It’s the kind of morning that can turn into anxiety, if you have too many of them in a row.

Suddenly, I realize I can see just a little beyond the circumference of my headlight. There is a glow in the sky ahead of me. This particular bike path runs past a prison, and the prison lights are bright. I’m getting what I want—a little more visibility—yet I’m not sure I like where it is coming from.

In every life, there is the temptation to seek a little more certainty wherever we can get it. But usually, those things that bring more certainty—things like control and power and security and dogmatic beliefs and the best laid plans—come at a cost. We get addicted to them. We get imprisoned by them. In the end, they don’t shed light on a better life; they illuminate a smaller life.

I pass the prison and the darkness and fog deepen once again. Then, ironically, as I continue to wonder about this writing path I’m on, the writer in me begins to wonder about this metaphor. Specifically, I wonder, what do the darkness and fog represent? Is it shame? Is it ego? And then I know. They represent my humanity.

To be human is to live in darkness and fog. To be human is to live in uncertainty. To be human is to travel a path strewn behind us with the debris of doubt and second-guessing. To be human is to long for a vision of what lies ahead. And yet. To be fully human is to embrace that darkness and fog are simply part of the equation, part of life, at least for a while.

Sure, on this dark and foggy morning, there will come a sunrise. So, too, in my life—whether in moments of epiphany, or in my final passing moments—there will come a sunrise that burns away the veil. But for now, I pedal on, guided only by this small light, seeing only this short distance.

And what is this small light?

This small light comes from my soul. The Divine is here, using our legs and racing hearts and searing lungs and sweating brows, to move it from here to there. This small light is the passion implanted in my soul—this passion for writing—the passion chosen for me not by me. Each of us is given at least one. But this small light doesn’t show us where we’re headed or what’s ahead; it just shows us what we’re here to do today.

Then, I realize, I’d awoken mistaken. Writing isn’t my path. Life is my path. Writing is simply the small light with which I navigate it.

Well, then.

Shine on.

If your path seems to be covered in darkness and fog, it’s because it is covered in darkness and fog. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re headed in the wrong direction; it simply means you’re alive and you’re human. The question is, will you turn on your small light? Will you trust your soul? Will you pedal through this life with your passion leading the way?

Will you let it guide you, if only for today?

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Loveable is ultimately about how to discover your passion and live from it. It's available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mary MacDonald

    Thank you. I needed to read these words this morning.

  • Kim Clausen Williamson

    Thank you Kelly. After recently living through the uncertainty of Irma and her path as it barreled toward my door, I get how much anxiety and fear it elicits. And yet , in this case, we were faced with our total lack of control as to where it would go. I think we had some ” control” over our response to it and in it but there were so many unknowns, like our humanity. And yet choosing to cling to the Presence of the Divine in it was comforting and in the same , as you say, He has given each of us a unique “light” to navigate the seeming darkness along the paths of our humanity. Ahhh, to walk in that versus manipulate that to happen. I’m learning, like a child, to walk, stumbling often.

    • This is beautiful, Kim. I admire your willingness to discern between what you can and cannot control. These hurricanes are tragic, but something really good is happening in their aftermath: millions of people drawing upon their passions to restore beauty and order. Let’s walk in that light.

  • Vicky

    Very appropriate after sitting through Irma, that massive storm, to read your words and understand them completely. I’ve been struggling with one very difficult uncertainty; the prognoses of my daughters diagnosis. In the beginning of this challenge, I fought tirelessly for answers and assurances. There were none! I struggled to make sense of it all. I found no apparent reason. I’ve learned much from this one unacceptable curve in our lives. We must be ok with the darkness and fog. It is what develops our faith and humanity.

    • Vicky, I’m sorry for your daughter’s situation. Indeed, the suffering the illness is bringing for her and you is enough, you certainly don’t need the extra suffering of seeking reasons and guarantees that do not exist. May you be at peace and may you be present with her, in the midst of the darkness and fog.

  • Amanda Díaz

    Thank you!

  • Debra Darvick

    There is a phrase Jewish sages crafted as a reminder for the good and not-so-good moments:
    Gam zeh yavo. This too shall pass.
    The phrase reminds me to give thanks when I’m feeling atop the mountain and offers
    comfort when I’m at the the foothills yet again. Kelly I loved the epiphany — writing is not your path,
    life is your path. Thank you once again for a crucial reminder.

    • Debra, I admire you for the way you keep pedaling on your path, with no guarantee about where it is headed. You inspire me.

  • Catherine Martinez

    Amazingly thought-provoking, both poignant AND beautiful at the same time. Once again, you have moved me to deeper thinking. Thank you for your openness and sharing your deepest thoughts!

  • Thank you, Kelly, for your beautiful words again! Keep writing! Don’t stop!!

  • Marilyn

    Thank you. I loved this post. I had to smile when I saw your email in my inbox, because just under it was an email from Dr. Kelly Brogan (with whom you would resonate!) titled: “Simple steps for reversing brain fog and fatigue.” Her holistic approach to life and its challenges align with what you say in so many ways! The serendipity of your offering and hers felt ‘right.’ This experience of being human sure does come with its challenges and mysteries, but your words support being okay with it all. I’m grateful for the gift of your writing.

    • Two fog emails in one morning! That is a nice synchronicity. Thank you for your kind words, Marilyn. One of my favorite mantras is, “Quit trying to solve the mystery; live the mystery.” Thanks for hearing that in what I’m writing!

  • Cris M

    Hi Kelly, this is a very timely post (independently of when it is posted, I believe!) Certainly if there are too many foggy days in a row, the situation is different, but there are always days like this in every life as you wrote. And there are also bright days when the hills or the trees hide the way too, for me those are the days when you know you are doing your best and still the results or what you expect doesn’t arrive, and you wonder if those decisions taken were right, or if the efforts were worthwhile,… maybe the ride is still pleasant, but still you cannot see what comes ahead.
    In any case, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment that this is to be human. There is this messiness, and uncertainty and heartbrokenness, and things that we do not like exactly to be on the path, or to be the ones that bring some light on the path (although the light is always welcome). And being human means too to be on the path, that is what our ancestors used to do better than us in a more literal way.
    Kavafis wrote this beautifully in “Ithaca” and David Whyte writes this beautifully in the poem “Santiago” too (these lines are kind of prayer for me!):

    The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
    hiding then revealing the way you should take,
    the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
    to walk on thin air,
    then catching you, holding you up,
    when you thought you would fall,
    and the way forward always in the end
    the way that you followed, the way that carried you
    into your future, that brought you to this place,
    no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,
    no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:
    the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
    out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
    for something that seemed to stand both inside you
    and far beyond you, that called you back
    to the only road in the end you could follow, walking
    as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice
    that by night became a prayer for safe arrival… (cont.)

    • Cris, that prayer is a tremendous gift to me, and I’m sure to others who will read this. Where can I find it originally? I will be saving it somewhere special.

      • Cris M

        It is David Whyte’s poem entitled Santiago (related to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela) – It is in the book “Pilgrim”. Here is the link to his official page where it is posted: http://www.davidwhyte.com/english-poetry/#Santiago

  • D Boyd

    As always… thought provoking and timely. I need to embrace the fog and feel for my light.

    • That is a wonderful summary: embrace your fog and feel for your light. Love it.

  • Glen Orsak

    After reflecting on yet another post from you that stirred the pot for me, I first thought that perhaps I need a new light. The better metaphor is that I need to recharge my batteries so that they power my own light – again. Perhaps even new batteries are needed but my light is my light and last time I checked it was not burned out – just a bit dim.

    • A. Julie

      That metaphor rings true for me… I hope you’ll be able to carve out some bits of time and space for yourself soon. Wishing you well.

  • mauricienne

    What a lovely and timely post! As with many others, it resonated with me on a deeply personal level because of recent events in my life. I thrive on stability, certainty; but, as you point out, life is not meant to always be stable or certain…. I guess times of uncertainty and self-doubt stretch us and help us discover hidden depths of strength and faith within us, as well as wells of wisdom and love in those around us. I have found great comfort and strength in turning more fully to God in these trying times. More fervent prayers, more time in the scriptures, more pondering…

    One of my favorite hymns goes right along with your post (esp. the last few lines). The title is is “Lead, Kindly Light”. The author writes:

    Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom
    Lead thou me on
    The night is dark and I am far from home
    Lead thou me on
    Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see
    The distant scene, one step enough for me.

    To be honest, I struggle with being satisfied with only seeing one step ahead- but isn’t that where faith fits in? Trusting that, as we do our part, the path will unfold in the best possible way, whether or not we know what it is or where it leads- and regardless of whether we chose it. It’s not an easy path to walk, but surely it is the most rewarding in the end.

  • Grace

    Shine on indeed….LOVELOVELOVE 🙂

  • Gretchen

    Kelly, this is lovely. Like you, writing has become a means of light for my journey. In the times when my light seems dim, I am grateful for all who come along beside me with their own light. Thank you.

  • A. Julie

    My response is part “Preach it, brother!” and part, “Well, then. **cough**.” (Yep, I filled in a different rueful sh- word by the time I got to “shine on,” and anybody who feels me on that is welcome to laugh at themselves alongside me dong the same.) Because I’m kind of mid-pivot over here and this post arrives at a good time – as the feeling-it-out shifts into articulation and affirmation, and before it’s shorthanded into something smaller and tidier.

    “Life is my path.” Where’s the nomination form for “liberating sentence of the year'” because that one earned a spot on my list, prodding a remaining unarticulated tangle such that it came apart: Plop. Oh. Duh. How did it ever seem more complicated?

    The reminder that our passions are chosen for us, not by us, is also valuable.

    You wrote once about how we each have a note to play in life’s symphony, and I’ve mused that the right one will keep beckoning, and it won’t matter if nobody likes it or cares; it might be like a dear ratty stuffed animal made beautiful by the love it’s given… and beautiful to those who know what it is to love a ratty stuffed animal. I’m going all Velveteen Rabbit there but the image is so vivid and the ego can be so hungry (do not feed the animals); I hope the sentiment comes through. That preamble might also shorten the leap to “keep playing that cowbell!” so the right sentiment comes through there, too.

    So, thanks for writing. You never know what else you’ll illuminate when you’re reflecting. (Speaking of which, I’d better go shine my cowbell ’cause it’s certainly done some folks good before. It’s just that I thought I was playing something else at the time.)

  • Randy C

    Your writing is your little light that guides you and for those who are so far in darkness and don’t have light can now see your light in the distance, like a light house guides lost ships through fog…”i see it”, you share it. And when it those boats or ships get closer thing become clear and safe, a chance to breathe and check their compass and sail on…

    -the wedding drink

  • Kitha

    Oh how this spoke to me…💕…. Don’t know if what I’m fixin to write makes sense… But, the older I get, I’m 70, the more I’m loving the mysterious mystery of Him…. It’s (He’s) drawing me like a magnet into the unknown…. Not seeing ahead, but knowing Him, Always Faithful, Always Good, Always Loving, Always Trustworthy..Always!!! My heart sees Him walking beside me holding my hand…at the same time I see Him going before me preparing the way, pushing every hurtful thing out of my way, and leaving in my path the pain that’s needful, that’s bearable, that’s useful for His glory, my good and the good of those He has placed in my life… at the same time I see Him standing at the end of the season we just walked through with a big smile, and outstretched arms, waiting for me to run into His arms as He lifts me up and says, like a Good Father, yay!!! you made it!!! As I rest my head on His shoulder resting in His love… not knowing what’s ahead, but knowing Him, knowing Emanuel… GOD is with me… Because of that Truth (Him) alone, I am loving the mysterious mystery of Him…. Father, Son, Holy Spirit..Three in One…. The unknown doesn’t have to be scary if you know Him, and are known by Him. It can be the best trip you ever take!!☺

  • Kitha

    Wanted to add… Even when life, the unknown, is scary…. by His grace, and His grace alone, we can take one step at a time trusting in His faithfulness to get us through… and it’s still the best scary trip you can ever take☺!!….. Psalms 56:3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.