When I was a kid, our church had one of those “harvest festivals,” where you have all the candy and fun parts of Halloween, minus the ghosts and witches. Rumor had it the main attraction would be the giant cardboard-box maze that would cover the entire church basement. My little brother and I were ecstatic.
My mom volunteered to help coordinate the event, so we went to church with her for the afternoon. While she decorated and prepped food, Kyle and I scoped out the maze. It was even more colossal than we’d dreamed, with countless twists and turns and dead ends. Even so, we felt up to the challenge. After all, I was pretty big stuff now that I’d turned double digits.
Things were a little dicey at first. We took one wrong turn after another until we had no choice but to break out of the boxes and stand up to get our bearings in the fluorescent-lit basement. We pressed on until we finally made our way to the end of the maze. Once we had the route down, we practiced it tirelessly for the rest of the day, and by the time Mom was ready to take us home to change into our costumes, we were confident we could make it through blindfolded, maybe even backward. Not that I was one to brag.
But when we came back later that evening, somehow everything looked different. The basement was pitch dark, with strobe lights flashing and creepy music blaring, interspersed with recorded shrieks and laughter. I mustered up an internal pep talk, reminding myself that I’d completed this maze dozens of times that very day. And besides, as the older sister, I had to put on a brave face in front of my brother.
We got in line and anxiously awaited our turn. When we got to the front of the line, the chaperone asked if we were sure we wanted to do this. His doubt only increased my resolve. Of course I was big enough to do this! I took hold of my brother’s hand, and we ducked into the maze.
We were only a few steps in before I decided there was no way this was the same maze we’d practiced earlier that day. Surely someone had rerouted the whole thing while we were home changing! I would never have admitted it out loud, but I was more terrified than I’d been in my entire decade of living.
Despite my big-sister bravado, I knew it was time to admit defeat. Kyle and I backed out to the starting point and went to bob for apples.
Then a family friend, a high schooler, came to our rescue and volunteered to take us through the maze. I was skeptical at first, seeing as I was still a bit rattled by the whole experience. But he assured me we could make a train: I would hold on to his ankles and Kyle would hold my ankles. We’d be in this together. And so we made it through the maze, with Kyle as the caboose and me sandwiched in the middle.
Sometimes the scariest thing when we’re up against a difficult situation isn’t the situation itself but feeling like we’re facing the blackness and creepy noises alone. We reach out in front of us, and we can’t see a thing. We glance over our shoulders, and it seems like an empty wasteland from behind. We feel exposed, vulnerable to attack.
After Israel was captured and exiled to Assyria, they felt that same sense of abandonment and isolation. But through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God reminded them that they weren’t alone.
Get out! Get out and leave your captivity…
You will not leave in a hurry,
running for your lives.
For the Lord will go ahead of you;
yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind.
God promised to go both ahead of his people and behind them. As they crawled through the dark, scary places, they could hold on to his ankles, knowing he would guard them from anything that jumped out in front of them or snuck up from behind.
Whatever dark mazes you’re facing today, may you know that God goes before you to guide you. Behind you to protect you. And that you are sandwiched safely in the middle.
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.