When I was little, my favorite summer sport was catching fireflies. My sister and I would chase those flashing lights in our backyard and laugh as they climbed over our hands before taking off again. Sometime we would put a few in an empty jar with holes punched in the top, a few bits of grass and twigs and a sprinkle of water. Unfortunately, the larger ones would die overnight while the smaller ones would seek freedom through the air holes. But we never tired of the chase. Whether we watched from our bedroom window or enjoyed the thrill of running outside past our normal bedtimes, catching fireflies is a cherished childhood memory.
Sadly, memories may be all we have left. Firefly populations have been declining all over the U.S. in recent years. Entomologists are blaming habitat destruction and light pollution for the ever dwindling numbers. Simply put, suburban sprawl has destroyed the forest and open grasslands where these insects flourish. They thrive in the warm moist environments of ponds and lakes surrounded by forests and open grasslands. They lay their eggs in the leaf litter of forest floors. As the larvae grow, they head for the open fields of grasses to find mates. The grass gives these nocturnal creatures cover during the day. At night, they climb to the tips of the grass to flash their lights to attract a mate. When the male sees a responding light from a female in an overhead tree, he will fly up to meet her. This is why suburban backyards next to wooded areas are so perfect for fireflies. But they have been squeezed out by housing developments, paved parking lots and large shopping centers that are so common today. We have made the environment hostile to them and fireflies now struggle to breed and are unable to lay enough eggs each year. Consequently, their numbers are rapidly falling.
Though we notice the physical changes that we have brought about on this planet, we may miss how the changes in our culture affect our spiritual lives. As our society speeds up, we find it harder to slow down and spend time in prayer and meditation as God calls us to do. Social issues will always be at odds with Biblical laws. As a Christian, I often feel that I am being squeezed out by a society that values self-gratification over a higher moral standard. I didn’t notice the loss of fireflies until I read about it in a local newspaper. I can remember my childhood backyard alive with sparkling lights on summer nights. My husband tells the story of canoeing down the Delaware River as a boy scout and seeing thousands of fireflies light up the trees along the river. What a sight that must have been! But they are fading away and I didn’t notice until I read about it. Will Christian moral values slip away as quietly? Will anyone notice?
While habitat loss is devastating firefly populations, light pollution has also caused irreparable damage. Scientists have noticed that some fireflies synchronize their flashes but the headlights of a single car can disrupt the flash pattern for several minutes. These insects use their lights to communicate. They find mates, defend territory and warn off predators with their flashing taillights. Now they have to compete with suburban landscape lighting, streetlights, increased car traffic and parking lots lights.
Light pollution has hurt the insect’s ability to find mates and breed while loss of habitat has taken away a safe shelter for them to lay eggs and allow the larvae to grow. As a result, less fireflies are born each year and summer lawns no longer light up with thousands of flashes on warm nights.
Jesus spoke often of light. He told His followers that they could be a light in a dark world. Too often, I feel like my light is being outshined by the society that I live in. The half-truths and outright lies of our culture seem brighter and flashier than the words of Christ in our upside down world. Or am I the one who is upside down? Am I letting myself be overwhelmed by waves of politically correct ideologies rather than holding tight to Christ’s teachings? Perhaps the things that He has taught us – love, compassion, forgiveness, humility – shine with a divine light that cannot be outshone. Perhaps I need to be more concerned about what is shining in my heart than letting the streetlights distract me. And in doing so, I can direct people to “the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:16).
…Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16