Light of the World, City on a Hill

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14

It’s October now, and the light is changing. Moving farther and farther away.

In the afternoons, when the kids are napping, I drag the brown wicker chair to the far corner of the deck – the only place where there’s still a little patch of sun. And it just feels different on my face. Like it’s slipping away even as I sit beneath it.

When I plod barefooted down to the kitchen to write at 4:30 every morning, it is end-of-the-world dark, and it stays that way until after 6:30. I work by the stove-light and the fluorescent computer screen. I sit facing the big sliding glass door as always, but I can’t see the pond or the ducks or the changing trees. Just the dark. And it feels different, writing that way.

Last Wednesday, the light box arrived in the mail, sleek and boxy with white tubes stretching up through it. Andrew got it for me because, in the winter months, the darkness sort of infects me with a deep, flat kind of sadness.

They call it seasonal affective disorder and make these boxes now to help, and so I flip mine on first thing in the morning. The fluorescence of it is blinding, startling, and it feels a little like my eyes are going to explode at first from all that light.

The light box manual promises to disperse these ions, little particles of air that will apparently make me feel like I’m in a clean forest or near a waterfall or standing in a field after a thunderstorm has passed, leaving the ground wind-ravaged and soaked through. “Use the Sky Effect light and the Negative Ionizer simultaneously,” the user’s guide promises, “and feel like you’re sitting on the beach on a sunny day.”

Except, of course, you don’t. Not really. You feel like you’re sitting in your sweat pants at the kitchen table, and the whole contraption has that plastic manufactured smell about it. I think, Don’t promise me beach. Don’t compare this to warm skin and red cheeks and that bleached out kind of happiness. Talk science. Say it straight, for crying out loud. Say neurons and circadian rhythms. We all know this is no island vacation.


And it’s just built into the rhythms of nature. Every year around this time, the sun feels a little farther away, a little more reluctant to appear. The nights get longer, the days get shorter.

I wish I had seen it before, this metaphor. I wish I had understood that God is not farther away just because I feel him less. It’s about orbit, about an angle that is always changing, about the normal rhythms of life.

We are spinning on our own tilted axis, a full turn every 24 hours. We are spinning slowly around the sun, a full rotation every 365.256363 days, and Darkness comes not as some sort of punishment or capital-L lesson for our hard hearts. It comes because it comes. Because that’s how we’re made.


You are the light of the world, the Scripture says, and light moves across a range of color and degree. Did you know that? There’s this electromagnetic spectrum of frequencies and wavelengths, and there are so many different shades of light.

You are the soft, low lamp on a nightstand or the bright overhead light of a conference room. You are a candle, flickering. A tiny bulb on a strand of Christmas lights. A light-box beaming from the kitchen table. You are a solar lantern at the walkway. A porch light. A street light. A spotlight. A ray.

Maybe your light is softer, a little wavering, but that doesn’t make it less, doesn’t diminish it’s importance. Dim is not a kind of failure. Fluorescent is not a kind of success. The truth is, we need it all, every degree of brightness, every small, flickering light.

Because the earth tilts and things move and your angle changes just one tiny little degree, and suddenly, God doesn’t feel as close as he once did. The Dark comes faster, lasts longer, and it’s its own kind of seasonal affective disorder. It makes you sad. It makes you doubt.

When that happens (because it will happen) look to the hills. There is a city. A hundred thousand lights, glowing in every degree of brightness.

There’s that God-light in all of us, given and held, candles burning, lights shining, all of it calling us home.

  • Mark Allman

    I was thinking about what you said about light and God’s light. What we see and think of as light is such a small percentage of the actual spectrum of light. I think God is like that as well … we see such a small percentage of who he is and so much of what he does is not visible. It is also interesting that studies show we can detect up to 10 million shades of color and some people many more.

    • Addie Zierman

      I didn’t know that about shades of color. So interesting.

  • Susan

    What a beautiful way to understand the changes we feel in relationship to God without having to trace a line of cause and effect — or blame. I very recently realized that I associate all personal pain with bad choice. Does your heart hurt? You did something wrong. Perhaps, PERHAPS, “Darkness comes not as some sort of punishment or capital-L lesson for our hard hearts. It comes because it comes.” I’m with you.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes that cause and effect game is a discouraging one to play. I too have gone there a time or two (or a hundred zillion.) Thanks Susan.

  • Jessica

    Like you, I wish I had seen the metaphor sooner. Orbit. Love it.

    But I think even in knowing that these periods of darkness come and go again, the experience of darkness is to feel that it may never end. Rational thought versus emotional experience.

    • Addie Zierman

      That’s very true…about the darkness. It’s very heavy and it feels so long.

  • Glenda Childers

    It takes a degree of maturity, I think, to welcome both the light in all of its’ forms and the natural darkness that seasons of life bring.

    Great words.

    Hope the lamp helps.


    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Glenda.

  • Jim Fisher

    Addie – Our senior pastor is in the middle of a sermon series on Biblical light all the way from the “let there be” of Genesis to the eternal light of Rev 22. I have passed this post on to him. I am sure he will enjoy it as much as I have. Blessings.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for passing it along, Jim. What a fascinating sermon series. Love it.

  • Jen

    Addie, this is a nice coupling with Shawn Smucker’s piece on the death of homeschooling. Only in the fact that there is no single one right way to be light, to do life, to call myself mama, wife, woman. And my light? My light is like a crack of lightning some days and others its the bright tip of orange just before the candle extinguishes. Loves this.

    • Mark Allman

      Some days my light is only a memory.

    • Addie Zierman

      That was an amazing post by Shawn. Just finally had a chance to read it. Thanks for pointing it out and for this great comment.

  • Sarah Askins

    I feel the same about the seasons changing. The sun isn’t the same yellow, the skies still blue but more transparent. I, too, battle seasonal affective disorder(why couldn’t someone figure out it was a bad idea to name this so its acronym would SAD?). I love how we were created to be light, but we are supposed to shine differently. Love this, friend.

    • Addie Zierman

      “I love how we were created to be light, but we are supposed to shine differently.” Yes. Me too.

  • HopefulLeigh

    Gorgeous, this: “When that happens (because it will happen) look to the hills. There is a city. A hundred thousand lights, glowing in every degree of brightness. There’s that God-light in all of us, given and held, candles burning, lights shining, all of it calling us home.”

    First, I have to admit when I read “you are the light of the world,” I immediately started singing the song from Godspell. And whenever I see “city of light,” I picture the CCM compilation CDs from forever ago.

    I have been viewing myself as a dim light lately. I wouldn’t have put it in those exact words but I saw myself in your words. I downplay the effect I do have on others because it’s not on a grander scale or it’s not as impressive as what someone else does. But I have to remember what I do matters more to the people whose lives I effect, just as the people who pour into me matter more than the distant players.

    • Addie Zierman

      I know. I have musical baggage around both of those phrases too. 😉 And yes. I think that different people are made to be different kinds of light. My mom is a hundred thousand watts of it. She is the person who can go up to someone on the street and talk about Jesus and it feels natural and graceful and full of love. I’m not like that. My light is a little bit more subdued and flickery, but it’s still there, and I think that there are people who need light dimmed down a little bit. I think that we need all of it, every type of it, to make up that city.

  • Kelly @ Love Well

    Addie, I love this. It resonates through every cell in my being.

    “I wish I had seen it before, this metaphor. I wish I had understood that God is not farther away just because I feel him less. It’s about orbit, about an angle that is always changing, about the normal rhythms of life.”

    As a fellow Northerner who also struggles with the dark, I have found great comfort and meaning in the metaphor of light. In the summer, when light is rich and abundant, I hardly need electricity. In the winter, when light is scarce and the darkness fierce, I cling to my candles.

    There is much to be learned from the seasons.

    • Addie Zierman

      “There is much to be learned from the seasons.” I agree. I decided recently to stop raging against Minnesota winter and maybe let it teach me something about grace.

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  • Corinne

    Addie, this is so true. I suffer from SAD as well. Never tried the light box so is be interested in hearing how it works for you. As to your writing, as usual you sing the melody and the harmony I our hearts. Thank you for your commitment to write. :)

    • Addie Zierman

      So far so good on the light box. But, you know, it’s not January yet. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for the kind words, Corinne. :)

  • Bernard Shuford

    You just might have outdone yourself here. You just made my morning a little bit brighter. Maybe my darkness will eventually swing back around to some light. I don’t know, but I hope so.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Bernard. And I think you will. Depending on the angle that we’re turned to the sun (based on our orbit), light is either concentrated or spread thin. I think you’ll come out of the spread-thin time eventually and feel it again all the way to your soul.

  • Mark

    Addie, as per usual, you have struck a very tight cord in my life. And like a guitar sting it rings out pure and clear. I feel like you and I are on very similar orbits at times, and you speak to my soul when you talk about being a dim light and it not being a failure. Thank you very much for your writing.

  • Vincent


    I have been living in Costa Rica for some twenty something years and we have sunlight each day from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. We have a dry season with lots of sunshine and a wet season with rain in the afternoons. Sometimes however, we get rain all day and that can affect me with SAD. However, I’m learning that some of this is caused by vitamin D deficiency so I’m taking a supplement that helps a lot. It’s so true however what you say about low times feeling like God is punishing us. It’s such a human tendency isn’t it?

    My mother keeps begging me to return to North America one day, but I don’t know if I could stand the long dark days.

  • Shar

    Addie, I love this. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how sometimes we are candlelight and sometimes campfires, sometimes just a shovelful of embers. Your connection between the shift of the earth and the distance to the sun made something click in my brain–thank you for writing it down. Also, would you mind if I printed out copies of this and handed them out to our secondary students next semester? I’m supposed to be a chapel speaker, and I think your words might be light for a few of them.

    • Addie Zierman

      Of course you can Shar. I’m so honored that you would ask. Please do. :)

  • Donna

    Light is such a fascinating thing – did you know that there is no trace of a beam of light between where it originates from and where it is seen? There is no physical evidence of it being there, and yet it can be seen. There are a lot of really, really interesting scientific studies of light. Check out Joanne McFatter, I’ve heard her talk about her studies on the principles of light and how it all ties in to the spiritual.
    Oh, and as usual, I love your words. You have such a gift :)

    • Addie Zierman

      That’s so interesting, Donna. Thanks for sharing that. I’ll have to check out Joanne McFatter. I’m always fascinated by stuff like that, though my right-brained writer head doesn’t always get the scientific nitty gritty. (I had to re-read the “How Stuff Works” bit on Light quite a few times before I could distill something down enough for this post!) Anyway, thanks so much!

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