Searchlights and Penlights

“The discerning person looks to wisdom, but the eyes of the fool to the ends of the earth.” – Proverbs 17:24

Sister Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun who wrote the book Dead Man Walking, said in a lecture, “I’m always asking God for a searchlight.  But, instead, God gives me a penlight.”

I nodded my head because that has been my experience, as well.  I am always looking for the searchlight that lets me see every turn in the road and how the journey ends even before I start.  You see, I am a planner by nature.  I’m the guy who carries around a multi-year calendar that includes events or commitments three years from now.  I want to see as far ahead as I possibly can.  So, in one way or another, I am always asking for a searchlight.

Instead, most of the time, God gives me something more like a penlight, which offers just enough illumination to see where I can plant my foot next—but no more.  Walking by penlight forces one to be patient with the unknown and to exercise a bit of trust.  And that can be challenging.

Even when I was young, I wanted the searchlight and had to learn how to walk by penlight.  When I, or another member of my family of origin, was consumed with a decision and uncertain how to proceed, my mother would say, “When the time comes, it will be clear.”  When I was young, I resisted her counsel.  I had difficulty with the “when the time comes” part and, to be honest, I still do.  How about now?  What’s wrong with now?

Now that I am older, however, when I am impatient with the slow unfolding of events, I can still hear my mother’s voice say, “When the time comes, it will be clear.”  And, over time, I’ve learned that she was right.


God, if I can’t have the searchlight, show me how to walk by penlight.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is President of Andover Newton Theological School.  His newest book is Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian. Follow Martin on Twitter @mbcopenhaver.