My first real job was at a department store in my little hometown. I lived on one side of town and the store was on the other. Most of the time I worked days but once in a while I had to take the evening shift.
Now, there were several ways to get home from this part of town. I usually took the interstate. It was fast and impersonal but did the job. I could take the longer, more circuitous route through the country back roads. I could also drive the leisurely route through our tiny downtown.
One night, as I left work, I decided to take this calm, quiet, downtown path home. I drove down the well-lit streets at a creeping 30 miles per hour. There were almost no other cars on the road. I reminisced about my childhood in the these quiet streets, noting the landmarks of my personal history and that of my family.
After several minutes, I turned away from the lights of town onto the state highway leading to my home. I found myself in almost complete darkness! Even the instrument panel was dark! I could not see where I was going at all!
I frantically tried to figure out what had happened. Had the lights burned out? Was there something wrong with the battery? Had I lost power to the car?
I reached for the light switch, thinking I would turn them off and back on, only to discover that I had not turned on the lights in the first place!
I had been driving for almost 10 minutes with NO LIGHTS!!! NONE! Well, no lights of my own, anyway.
I realized I had been guided by the bright light of the streetlamps and other exterior lights along the city streets. When I left those lights, I had none of my own to lead me home.
This was a very sobering experience. I had often heard the counsel to "have your own light", meaning to have your own testimony of the Gospel. I felt I had done that, or at least I was working on it. But this experience suggested something deeper to me.
There might be times in my life when my own light is not urgently necessary to see the way. The path is clearly marked and there is plenty of light. If I neglect my own light during these times, I will not be ready when a sudden turn in the road leads me to a less-travelled path.
In the years following this experience, I have found myself on many unfamiliar roads. At times, I continued along without concern, my light was bright and the course well lit. At other times I have found myself unprepared for the darkness in which I suddenly found myself. The dimness of my own light and lack of light from other sources made that part of the journey difficult.
During some of these moments I have thought "I wish I was somewhere with more light." Or "I wish the people around me had brighter light to make this easier." My pride would not allow me to admit that if my own light had been stronger I would not be struggling as much.
One more lesson came from this experience. No matter how bright the headlights or lights of the city around me, they pale in comparison to the light of the sun. Since that night, I have marveled many times at the contrast between day and night as I drive that familiar road home. During the day I can make the turns quickly and without a conscious thought. That dark night, I would not have been able to continue without using my own lights. I might have made it but the trip would have been slow and harrowing.
I wish I could say I have learned my lesson but I haven't. I still find myself unprepared for some of the darker roads of life. It takes constant work and attention. Sometimes I am distracted my other cares and don't realize just how dark it is becoming. But I have learned that it's never too late to turn on the lights and find your way home!