A noble candle

I’ve come to love and appreciate candles much more in my adult life than I did in my childhood and adolescence.

Far from being the birthday-cake wish-granters or church-service adornments of my younger years, I’ve found candles – alone or together – to bring me great peace, joy, encouragement and inspiration as time goes on.

As I approached my 30th birthday, I started to appreciate candles for the impact that their flames had on their forms. I didn’t need them to be pristine to appreciate their beauty – as a matter of fact, the sight of excess wax tumbling down their bodies and forming colourful new patterns and shapes made me love them even more. To me, a used candle was a noble candle, battle-tested but still capable of providing comfort, colour and light in a dark world.

By now you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. He’s not actually going to spend the entire column prattling on about candles, is he?”

Bear with me, friends. I’ve got candles on the brain these days because of a classic piece from one of my favourite Christian writers, Max Lucado, who found a way to use these little wax friends as a metaphor for service – in the name of God and in the name of our communities.

In his 1987 book God Came Near, Max spins a fanciful tale about four candles that suddenly come to life and develop speaking voices when he finds them in a storage room during a storm. The problem: None of the candles want to be taken out and lit, even though that’s what they were designed to do.

The first candle insists that it’s still doing research so it can be ready to properly spread light. Another is busy “meditating on the importance of light.” A third quietly announces: “I’m waiting to get my life together. I’m not stable enough.”

The last candle declares that its gift isn’t generating light and warmth – it’s singing songs. And suddenly, all four candles are crooning “This Little Light of Mine,” leading Max to ponder the “absurdity” of four candles singing to each other about light but refusing to come out of the storage room and spread it around.

Of course, there’s a message here about Christians and/or churchgoers who claim to love God but don’t serve Him beyond the once-a-week act of participating in, or simply attending, their weekend church services.

But it’s more than that. We often make the mistake of thinking we’re required to be at a certain place in our lives to play a role in our communities.

If you’re in any kind of leadership position, you’ve likely heard these kinds of rationalizations: No, I’m sorry, I can’t take on that responsibility. I’m going through some stuff. I’ve never done that type of thing before. I need to read up on it. I don’t believe in myself enough to try. I had a bad experience with another group. I’m too inexperienced. I’ve got the wrong kind of experience and can’t connect with a younger generation.

Bottom line: Every kind of candle can generate light. Well-used, plain-looking, melted, stubby candles generate exactly as much light as bright, colourful, shiny, new, fresh-out of-the-box candles. Even broken candles generate light. Sometimes broken candles can generate the most inspiring light.

And several different kinds of candles, all glowing together, can pump out awe-inspiring amounts of warmth and light.

Right now, hundreds of people across Cape Breton and northeastern Nova Scotia are gearing up to host their summer community festivals, as well as major music events like KitchenFest, StanFest and Celtic Colours. Some play music. Others cook meals. Still others set up parades, host children’s activities or run athletic competitions. They’re all candles, and they all light up their communities when they work together.

I currently serve on the executives of two very different groups – the 58-year-old Rotary Club of Port Hawkesbury and the five-week-old Strait Area Theatre Society. Neither can operate without various kinds of candles glowing together.

Some Rotarians organize meetings. Others work on budgets and sign off on charitable donations. A hardy group of club members will always get out there with garbage bags for community clean-ups or hand out free hot dogs for Port Hawkesbury’s Canada Day celebrations.

Theatre organizations aren’t simply made up of actors, writers or directors. They also need people to handle props, sets, sound, lights, makeup, costumes, publicity, and applications for arts funding. Coffee-pourers and donut-carriers are also welcome.

Don’t let anyone, including yourself, convince you it’s impossible for you to be a candle at this exact stage of your life. You never know where, or how, you can spread some of your light around. Give it a try and help make your community that much brighter.