Let Your Light Shine by Hannah Campbell Gustafson


written by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. (Exodus 34:29-30)

As someone who both has lived experience with mental illness and is committed to helping to erase the stigma around mental illness, I’m always interested in the response when I let this passion and part of my experience out into the open.  I have many, many experiences of self-disclosing when people around me later thank me or self-disclose in their own way.  I can think of countless times: in churches, in workshops, in a leadership program, in grad school classes, etc.  I’ve been a little startled in the past by just how much it can change a space to have a few people self-disclose mental health concerns and/or passion about erasing stigma.  

In a recent Still Speaking devotional, John Edgerton wrote about “This Little Light of Mine”, a song that while sweet and lovely, can sometimes become irritating or annoying the 15th time we hear or sing it in a short period of time.  Most of us think of it as a child’s song, and likely have images in our mind of a cute children’s choir in church singing it, complete with hand motions.

The text from Exodus above, of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets, also includes light.  Moses’ face is shining bright after his time talking with God, and the Israelites were scared of him because of his shining face.  

But, as Edgerton writes, “In the hands of Fannie Lou Hamer, "This Little Light of Mine" was a rallying cry, a battle flag flying in the winds of the Civil Rights movement. She organized, marched and fought for voting rights—all with songs on her lips and scripture in her heart. She let her light shine…. And she was threatened, harassed, and shot at.” 

Sometimes, letting our light shine can scare other people, like Moses’ shining face did in the story in Exodus, or like Fannie Lou Hamer’s light did in her work during the Civil Rights movement.

I don’t pretend to be as brave or important as Fannie Lou Hamer or Moses.  But, I do know that I’m working to let my light shine, too.  And sometimes that scares people.  I’ve been told that mental health isn’t something to talk about in public.  I’ve been told that I probably shouldn’t self-disclose because people will respect or trust me less.  After reading Edgerton’s piece, I’ve decided that the next time something like this happens, I’ll recite the words of “This Little Light of Mine” in my head.

How are you working to let your light shine? 

Hannah Campbell Gustafson and her family recently made a leap of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN from rural Wisconsin.  She is the outreach coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church.  Hannah is treasurer for the Mental Health Network, is trained as a social worker, has an MDiv, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC.  She and her partner (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) share their lives with their young child Leona and their standard poodle puppy Óscar.

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