Dark Chocolate for Dark Days
When I was a child, I ate milk chocolate. For sure, most of the candy bars in those days consisted of milk chocolate and whatever other gooey or crunchy delights the recipe called for. But when I became a woman, I put away the milk and turned to dark chocolate to survive the darkest days of my life.
Once, I went through a stage when I preferred caramel to chocolate. Then, when my daughters attended university in the US, we discovered the little bags of foil-wrapped Ghirardelli chocolate squares. Every Christmas we exchanged the latest novelty chocolates among us. I love those ones with the crushed candy canes mixed in.
You could probably say we’re all confirmed chocoholics.
“Man cannot live on chocolate alone; but woman sure can.” –Anonymous
Dark chocolate contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter without the dairy milk and butter of milk chocolate. And of course, the main difference is that it has way less sugar. Dark chocolate without sweetener is bitter chocolate, and depending on the ratio of sugar to chocolate it’s sometimes labeled semisweet.
A few years ago, I found my mom’s stash of dark chocolate in a kitchen cupboard. Sheepishly, she explained that it was recommended by her doctor as a heart-smart move. Much to my surprise, some research corroborated what her doctor said about the health advantages of chocolate, particularly the dark kind.
Benefits of the Dark
Chocolate contains a truckload of energy and nutrients that positively impact our bodies’ function: Iron, magnesium, and potassium. Zinc, copper, vitamin B-12, and that’s not all. It’s not included in soldiers’ and astronauts’ rations for nothing.
Dark chocolate is one of the best and most powerful sources of antioxidants. In other words, it acts to prevent or slow cell damage (rusting, I call it jokingly) linked to cancer. It can reduce the risk of heart disease, just like Mom told me, and supports better immunity in general.
- Dark chocolate promotes bone and dental health and better sleep quality.
- It’s great for helping to protect your skin from sun damage and dehydration.
- It may improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.
- It may lower high cholesterol.
- And yay for diabetics, it increases insulin sensitivity.
- Dark chocolate may also improve brain function, from children with attention deficit to older adults with dementia.
“Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world’s perfect food.” –Michael Levine
You notice a lot of “mays” in that list. Not all the claims for chocolate have been proven or substantiated.
To my way of thinking, though, the feel-good endorphins alone must be worth something. Possibly because of the stimulant effects of its constituent ingredients, chocolate is the ultimate mood enhancer. It produces a boost of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin—the happy hormones. That’s the science behind our love affair with chocolate.
Of course, even dark chocolate is still chocolate. It has a high content of calories and saturated fat. Consumed in excess, it can increase caffeine levels in the blood and add to our weight. (And it’s definitely off the diet of anyone who’s just had gastric surgery.)
So what’s beneficial? Experts advise that 1-2 ounces (30-60 grams) of chocolate per day could be considered healthy, not more. That precludes bingeing, I guess! Dark chocolate should be at least 70% cocoa and not “Dutched” (alkalized to reduce its natural acidity). And as always, fair trade and organic is better (though not more economical, sigh).
I could write much more about the wonderful world of chocolate, but for now, I’ll save it for the dozen other chocolate tins in my collection. I confess I don’t remember where I got today’s highlighted Dark Chocolate Drops tin. Bought it? I doubt it. I suspect a friend gave it to me, maybe even empty.
So why, you may be wondering, would I feature this tin box without a history? Because it reminds me of what I need to do in dark times, where I need to turn.
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” –Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump
Dark chocolate prompts me to embrace those dark days…
…to find deep sweetness in the darkness. You know, the Bible doesn’t mention chocolate. But it does talk about honey, so I like to think of chocolate as the dark honey of the Americas.
Remember how God asked Ezekiel to consume a scroll on which was written “lamentations, mourning, and woe” (2:10, NASB) You could hardly blame the prophet if it looked like bitter chocolate. Instead, he said, “Then I ate (the scroll), and it was sweet as honey in my mouth” (3:3). Sometimes, you just have to read the story right. And when you do, you may find it tastes better than you first imagined.
God promises Cyrus, a pagan king of Persia called to fulfill His plan, that: “I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places…” (Is. 45:2-3, NASB). What a glorious destiny! God knows us by name and has appointed a task for each of us. And in the dark places, we can find hidden treasure if we follow Him.
Unfortunately, I’d often much rather whine or weep when circumstances in my life go wrong. My assignment tastes like sawdust, and my road feels rougher than gravel. It’s scary to face the darkness, and it’s hard work to fight it, as any story character will tell you. Some days I don’t even want to try—to exert myself, to march on, to swallow the bitter lumps. I’m tempted to curse the darkness and lie down.
But that’s how I miss the dark honey.
And it’s the biggest reason why things don’t change, why I don’t change.
“Setbacks and challenges are the only elements in a story that change us.” –Donald Miller, Hero on a Mission
I insist, I really can’t make changes happen. I can’t transform my life or anyone else’s by merely wishing it. Positive thinking may push me out the gate, but in the end that’s not the secret that will compel me to the finish line.
What will? For me, it’s the chance to live a great story. A chance to grow. You know, in the best books, the lead character’s situation always gets much, much worse before it gets better. What if you and I just simply choose to think differently—react differently—from the milksop way we might as a child? When I become a woman, I choose the dark chocolate.
This means that I will sense the meaning in the void and hear the music in the silence. I will dig out (no easy job) the enjoyment from the not-so-enjoyable, coax the good from the bad, see the beauty in the ugly, and find peace in the disappointment. Armed with our super-food—the dynamic energy of the Holy Spirit, the sustaining nutrition of the Word of God, and the elevating mindset of Christ—we can reset our perspective. Anytime.
Blessings in the Dark
Just last week, I wrote a missionary newsletter, an essential connection with friends back home, but not, I must confess, a literary genre even a writer looks forward to. As I review my life over the past three months, I must reduce it to a few paragraphs and prayer bullets.
On the other hand, in assigning the narrative a title, I discover the significance of these plot points in my life. I’m reminded of how far I’ve come, what my purpose here is, what’s next, and above all, what’s important to eternity. I reframe my attitude and reset my compass.
“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” –George Lucas
We don’t put a “spin” on life the way the world spins the news to a particular political or emotional charge. It’s more about the focus.
Every day I make decisions about how to focus, how to face the darkness that confronts me within and without. Will there be resistance and reluctance? You bet your Ghirardelli peppermint squares.
But those dark times transform us.
We’ve mentioned the benefits of dark chocolate, but I’ll be honest, 70% cacao may be healthy, but it tastes stronger than black coffee to me. How can dark days hold blessings?
They force us to accept the challenge, ready or not. And guess what, they suddenly make our stories intriguing instead of boring. They send us on unimaginable adventures and impossible missions. Not the fun vacations you post on Facebook, but unforgettable experiences, nevertheless.
Remember Gideon, the Israelite leader who won a great victory with an army of three hundred soldiers? “Valiant warrior,” right? That’s how God greeted him when he hid in a winepress, threshing a little wheat for lunch (Jud. 6:12-13, NASB). Not exactly promising hero material for those dark times.
Not only did Gideon quake in fear, he complained, “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” God had definitely made a miscall, Gideon figured, and he wasn’t about to invest his effort in the daring plan. His family had little prestige and few resources, and he saw himself as the most inconsequential in the family.
Only he wasn’t. God won’t let us off with gripes and nerves and claims of irrelevance. He doesn’t allow us to wallow and wail. He urges us, like Gideon, to fight against the enemies of discouragement and depression…and shine like the valiant warriors He knows we can be.
“A person’s reaction to a set of circumstances dramatically affects how their story plays out.” –Donald Miller, Hero on a Mission
In every situation, we come to a dividing line. Will we moan over the wickedness and failures of our generation? Will I—will you—mourn our losses and pain and just sink down and give up? We can grumble and lament…or we can rise up. We can hide and maybe survive, or we can discover the treasures of darkness, like Cyrus.
God’s greatest blessings often surprise us in the dark moments.
It’s a matter of choosing how we approach them. Whether I see only an endless struggle between faith and doubt, or whether I shift my outlook to reframe the story of my life around a higher viewpoint than my own troubles.
Your problems and mine aren’t petty, that’s not what I’m saying, and I know my Father God doesn’t think so, either. But the only way those dark chapters can mean anything is to place them in the context of His great story which is fast flipping to an out-of-this-world ending. And I can choose which part I play: a victim, a villain, a hero, or…even a trail-blazing guide or mentor.
It’s a sure thing, I’m going to encounter days of delays and dismay, not to say disaster and desperation, in this darkness. Along with my old friends, frustration and fury.
But when I feel stuck—buried and hidden away—in unproductive, invisible places, I can remember that God honors faithfulness in dark days.
When I wrestle on the murky, unseen battlefields of the heart, He is my light and my Jehovah-Shalom. My strong tower and my dark honey.
“The hand that steers the stars and turns the pages of history is the same that arranges our days and bestows the grace needed for each one.” –Robert J. Morgan, 100 Bible Verses that Made America
On every perilous journey, He walks with me and shows me the treasures of His darkness. So life’s more bitter than sweet? Go dark, my friend.
This was an amazing, perceptive post, Mrs. Diane. I will be reading it again for encouragement. Thank you.
God bless you today, Colleen. We all need that encouragement frequently!