Winter’s on its way in this part of the world, and with the season comes the shortening of days. It gets pretty dark in our neighbourhood once the sun has set; there are dim streetlights dotted along one side of our street but some of the side streets are unlit.
I walked in the dark to a PTA meeting the other night. The school’s not far, and I left home at around seven, so it was hardly a dangerous hour to be walking the streets alone – and yet I still found myself on guard.
One of the curses of completing a degree in Criminology (aside from the obvious – unemployment) is that I have been exposed to the very depths of human depravity; I have witnessed enough of evil people’s perversions to make me very keen indeed to avoid the clutches of any such perpetrator.
Towards the end of my studies, I took a course in forensic science. It was fascinating and I loved it except for the fact that it fell just before lunch; who wants a bologna sandwich after staring wide-eyed at a slideshow of gruesome crime scenes?! Viewing the result of foul deeds in technicolour whilst receiving a blow-by-blow account of what preceded the unfortunate victim’s demise was enough to keep me clutching my personal safety alarm and eyeing my fellow transit-passengers with suspicion as I travelled home from university on dark winter evenings.
Those same feelings of raw vulnerability and alert defensiveness returned as I headed along a particularly dark stretch of road the other evening. All the tips I’ve heard about maintaining personal safety began to flood back into my consciousness, beginning with this one: “Walk in the light.”
As a Christian, of course, ‘Walk in the Light’ has a whole other meaning.
It doesn’t just mean, “Stay visible to stay safe” – it also means something like Live your life through the Light of the world – remain in Christ as you walk the path set before you, spiritually-speaking (or possibly something quite a lot more succinct than that).
So as these words Walk in the Light (and the phrase’s dual meaning) popped into my head, I automatically began compiling the other tips I’d heard for maintaining personal safety; by and large, I found that most of them could also be applied towards navigating the journey of life as a Christian.
Here’s my list:
Walk in the Light
Seek illumination; avoid dark places. Not only does walking in the glow of the streetlights allow you to see any dangers lurking around you, but it also allows onlookers to provide informal surveillance for lone pedestrians; this also acts as a deterrent to potential offenders.
”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” -Philippians 4:8-9
Jesus is the Light of the World. Through his example, we know what a good life looks like. Walking in the Light involves keeping our hearts and minds fixed on holy things; keeping our hands involved in righteous work; keeping our eyes fixed on God.
“Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” -Ephesians 5:7-14
Stride Forwards (feign confidence if necessary)
Personal safety experts advise taking firm, determined footsteps to send the message to potential attackers that you are not an easy target. Avoiding victimization can be as simple as walking confidently, with your head held high, even if you feel fearful.
“The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.”
There will always be times in life that we feel hesitant about moving forwards. Maybe we’re in a state of uncertainty over something major, or maybe we’re just plodding along without feeling like we have much of a sense of direction. But the Bible makes it clear that we are to walk confidently on the path set before us, even when we feel unsure; we are not to be mired in place by guilt over past regrets; we are not to be bound by fear and indecision. Instead, we are exhorted to look forward with hope to the promises of the life to come, and to trust that God walks with us on the journey.
Attitude matters. Experts point out that some people’s body language automatically casts them as a potential victim. Slumped shoulders, shuffling gait, arms swinging limply by their sides or clutching an armload of things – these are the marks of an easy target. Thinking that you’re weak and vulnerable can make you weaker and more vulnerable; acting confident, even if you have been victimized in the past, can help you to avoid becoming the target of another’s aggression or ill intentions.
“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” -Matthew 5:45
There are many people who, because of past hurts, continue to view themselves as victims. They go through life expecting others to treat them badly, and they do. They expect the worst, and the worst happens. They remember the rainy days and forget about the sunshine. And they forget that ‘the rain falls equally on the just and on the unjust’; being a child of God doesn’t offer us blanket immunity from the pain and sorrow of this world.
In life, we have a choice. We can choose to be defined by our failures and the things others have done to hurt us; we can live in a mire of bitterness and envy – or we can choose, instead, to claim victory over our life. We can choose to find fulfillment in the promises of faith and the relationship we have in Christ. We can choose hope.
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33
Beware of Stumbling Blocks (and Distractions)
Knowing your route is key to navigating in the dark. Being aware of impediments to your progress will help you avoid injury and allow you to get to where you’re going quickly and safely. Keeping your wits about you and avoiding distractions like loud music and cell phones helps you to stay focused on your destination and mitigate against potential hazards.
We all have our weak points. Pride, envy, lust… You know the list – and you probably know which boxes you should tick next to your own particular vices. These are all stumbling blocks to truly experiencing freedom and joy. They are all impediments to living successfully.
“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” – 2 Peter 1:10
Similarly, it is easy to get distracted. Chasing happiness, following our own desires instead of pursuing Christ’s purpose for our life, and indulging in fleeting pleasures of worldly things pull us off course and divert us from the goal of walking wholly in relationship with God and our fellow man.
“But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” – Matthew 16:23
Face Your Fears
If you feel like someone might be following you, experts advise turning around and acknowledging them. This doesn’t mean that you have to be confrontational all the time; in fact, crossing the street or taking other evasive measures would be preferable – but in the event that you can’t outrun a pursuer, it is advisable to turn around and face him head-on.
There’s a lot of ‘take heart’ and ‘don’t be afraid’ verses in the Bible. Pretty much anywhere you encounter fear in the Bible you will see it in the context of being courageous in spite of your fear. Fear and anxiety, as most people who have experienced phobias will tell you, can be crippling; but God doesn’t want us to be bound by fear. As the Bible says, we can ‘call upon the Lord’ in times of trouble – he makes his own strength available to us. We don’t have to cower. We needn’t be frozen by fear. We can be courageous in facing our fears because God will act in us and through us in spite of our human weaknesses.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
As a safety measure, this just makes sense: wearing bright colours and some form of illumination when you’re walking at night can help prevent you from being hit by a car or bike – and it helps other pedestrians to notice and acknowledge you, too, which is a deterrent to anyone who might be on the lookout to rob or otherwise assault a lone traveller.
“Always look on the bright side of life…” – Monty Python said it best! But it’s not some sort of Pollyanna-esque attitude of cheeriness that I’m advocating here. Being positive and optimistic in your life is a natural by-product of a deeply ingrained sense of hope. Contentment, too, leads to a joyful demeanor. So, as we’d choose bright clothing to reflect the light of traffic and help us to be visible for personal safety, so should we choose a mindset of hope to reflect our faith in God’s perfect plan.
“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” – Psalm 147:11
There is strength in numbers, as the saying goes. Connecting with others along your route – strolling alongside a buddy or calling out greetings to familiar faces as you go – can help you to stay safe as you walk at night.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): life is about relationship. Fellowship is crucial for authentic growth; we might gain great spiritual insight through solo communion with God, but it is in putting that wisdom into practice as we walk alongside others that we truly grow in faith.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
Put Your Sneakers On
Be prepared. Tottering around in high heels may be fashion-forward, but it’s a foolish choice if you have to take a walk alone in the dark. You need to be ready to run or even just to stand firmly in case of trouble.
There’s a lot of practical advice in the Bible. The Ten Commandments, for starters, are not just ‘helpful suggestions’, but rock-solid instructions for enjoying God’s goodness in this life. God’s Word is the bedrock on which we can build our lives; it provides a firm foundation. Knowing the Word, we can then be ready for action – ready to face whatever life throws at us.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” -Matthew 7:24-27
Don’t Be Shy About Calling for Help
When people feel physically threatened they are sometimes reluctant to call for help – they’re hesitant about drawing attention to themselves, or causing a scene in case they’ve read things incorrectly and they end up ‘making a big deal out of nothing’. But the best advice is to seek the assistance of others or call the police emergency line whenever you feel that your safety is at risk. Better safe than sorry!
The Bible reminds us, time and again, to help one another and to be willing to let others help us. God’s Word also reminds us to lean on Him in times of trouble, and to call to the Lord for strength in times of need.
“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” -Psalm 18:6
Trust Your Intuition
If you have a feeling that you’re being watched or that you are in danger, trust your instincts and act accordingly. Personal safety experts advise you to always trust your intuition about people and situations. If you don’t feel safe, it’s possible that you aren’t safe. Go with your gut.
Intuition, spoken of in the Bible as discernment or ‘understanding’, is the ability to sense the presence of good and evil. In the secular world, it is hardly spoken of as such, but the Bible makes it clear that this ability is a gift bestowed by God; it is a gift given to us in order that we might distinguish things that are from him (good) or things that will harm us (evil). Christians must understand that to exercise this ability to its fullest extent we are required to be rooted in the One whose counsel admonishes us to ‘flee from evil’ and to ‘seek good’.
“But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” -Hebrews 5:14
“Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.” – Hosea 14:9
So there’s my list – it’s my best advice for keeping safe, and for thriving in your spiritual life as well.
Walk in the Light!