Always Choose the Light

I’m sitting here on Christmas Eve, listening to one of my favorite carols, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Peace on Earth), with its mournfully sweet chorus and haunting refrain:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men.

And the bells are ringing
[Peace on Earth]
Like a choir they’re singing
[Peace on Earth]
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said.
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

But the bells are ringing
[Peace on Earth]
Like a choir singing
[Peace on Earth]
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men.

As some of you music buffs may know, the lyrics are based on a poem by famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow wrote the poem, “Christmas Bells” during Christmas of 1863. His son Charles had run off to join the Civil War, nine months earlier, against his father’s wishes and been shot. To make matters worse, Longfellow’s wife Frances had accidentally caught her skirts on fire and been tragically killed in a house fire accident.

From the middle of the Civil War, Longfellow wrote of his sorrow, hearing the bells on Christmas almost drowned out by the boom of Southern cannons (Then from each black, accursed mouth / The cannon thundered in the South / And with the sound / The carols drowned / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!). His poem was first published in 1865 and turned into a song a few years later.

I’ve been thinking of this song, because I have several friends who have gone through rough times this year. As I reflect on 2014, if I had to condense what I’ve learned this year to just a few words, it would be this:

Always choose the light.

There is darkness and light, in every situation, though you may have to look closely to find one or the other. Sometimes the darkness is all-consuming, seemingly all-encompassing, and the light seems very, very faint – like a distant sliver or a ghost. But it is there.

If you’re a believer, I know you’ve already chosen The Light, but you will still be called upon to choose light over darkness in our struggles – over and over, regardless of whether you really want to or not.

I realize some of you reading this blog may have lost loved ones, marriages, or be facing insurmountable darkness think, “Well what’s happened to you, Mandy – what troubles have you seen that makes you an expert on advice like this.” That would be material for another blog post, but the short answer is…enough. I’ve seen enough to know that these words are true. (If you don’t believe me, read Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s account of Louis Zampirini, released in theaters today.)

In fact, you might say the secret of life can be summed up in these four words: always choose the light.

If nothing else, I write this blog as a future reminder to myself. And I think Longfellow, in his grief, knew these words too, as he concluded the poem:

But the bells are ringing
Like a choir singing
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep,
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.”
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.

Do you hear the bells, they’re ringing? Open up your heart and hear them. Peace on earth, good will to men.

My wish for you this Christmas is this: hear the bells.  And always choose the light.



Merry Christmas,




You can hear Casting Crowns’ live performance of I Heard the Bells here.