Hope Despite Despair

A friend of mine recently lost her job and now faces an uncertain economic future.  I have a friend who has decided to courageously fight and overcome an obstacle that has plagued her for years.  Another friend has spent weeks in a hospital at her mom’s side, rotating shifts with exhausted family members, balancing the needs of her family with the needs of her mother, not knowing each time she leaves to care for her three children, if it will be the last time she sees her mom alive.  My grandmother speaks wistfully of a desire to return to her home, leaving the assisted living facility where she now resides, knowing that her longing will most likely never be fulfilled.  My cousin missed her daughter’s college graduation to rush to her father’s side as he fought for his life in a hospital.  Today, a dear friend, who had just comforted neighbors who lost their son to suicide, learned that her best friend lost her young daughter in a drowning.  I don’t know her friend, but because the experience of motherhood is universal, I wept for her loss because no friend cries alone, no family member cries alone, no mother cries alone.

The pain of life is palpable and its taste is bitter.  The pit of despondence is deep and the surprise with which the enemy attacks is overwhelming.  Life sometimes spirals out of control, and there are no words, no neatly spoken platitudes than can fix real hurt, real despair, real pain.  How do you comfort a mother who just lost her child?  How do you help the friend whose best friend just lost her baby?  How do you choose between a sick parent and graduating daughter?  In this world, children are sold to brothels for a lifetime of slavery when they should be skipping carelessly through their backyard, dreaming of bright futures.  Parents drop their children off at orphanages in a desperate attempt to secure adequate food and shelter.  Millions long for a simple cup of clean water, water that won’t leave their children ravaged by disease, fighting for their lives.  Orphans long for a forever family.  Men and women kill and maim in the name of God.  Earthquakes, floods, and fires ravage and devastate, leaving families destitute and wondering why, how, what now?

Life spirals, the world spins, leaving a wake of confusion.  We hurl our questions to heaven with an ache that leaves us breathless.  Why?  We fall to our knees as tears pour into our open palms and we ask, “How?”  The heart-shattering moan of a mother who rocks back and forth unable to be comforted by the loving arms of those who long desperately to ease the pain, if only for a moment, echoes throughout the house, the world, reaching the ears of One who can.  What now?  Sometimes its more than we can bear because tragedy is ruthless and relentless.  There are moments it seems the world is spinning off its axis into an abyss of despair, and if we’re not careful we can get sucked into the lie that there is no hope.  But despite loss, despite the dark cloud of desperation that blocks out the light of hope, it’s still there; even when we can’t see with our eyes, He is there.

We question, we doubt, we wonder, we cling.  We cling desperately to the truth that though in this life we face trouble, Jesus has overcome the world.  We grasp hold of faith tightly with both hands as if our lives depend on it.  Faith doesn’t mean we have the answers; it doesn’t mean we understand, it means we trust the One who does.  It means we continue to wrestle even when life doesn’t make sense.  As my mind raced in church this morning while I prayed for a way to comfort my friends, the Holy Spirit kept bringing me back to Luke 22, where Jesus, who knew from the beginning what must come to pass, wrestled with His mission.  “Father, if you are willing take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done…..And being in anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  God reminded me that Jesus isn’t someone who can’t relate to our pain.  He came as flesh and blood; he experienced every aspect of life.  He faced moments of joy, delight, but at times, He was so full of despair and anguish that He sweat blood, while praying to the God He had seen face-to-face to spare the pain of death.  Yet, because of Christ’s willingness to take on the sin of the world, we have hope; anyone willing to reach out and accept Him in faith has hope.  Your Savior knows the sorrow of feeling abandoned and forsaken, “My Lord, my Lord, why have You forsaken Me?”  Jesus, as human, called out, “Why?”  He asked, he wrestled to the point of bleeding, yet He continued.  Why?  How? What now?

When life heaves a blow I think I can’t bear; I hesitate to question because I fear God.  He is holy and mighty and who are we to question Him?  Yet, He allows the questions.; Psalm is full of questions; scripture is full of men and women who struggled with doubt.  I think the questioning is what builds intimacy in our relationship with Jesus.  When Lazarus died, Mary didn’t shrug when she met Jesus and say, “Well, I guess it was God’s will, and I will accept it in silence.”  No, she ran to Jesus and said, I believe, in a somewhat accusatory tone, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”  In her grief, she honestly told Jesus what was on her heart, and knowing that He was about to bring Lazarus back from the dead, Jesus was so moved by Mary and Martha’s grief that He wept. He didn’t become angered by her audacity; He comforted her.  Jesus shared in their grief just as He shares in the grief and anxiety of my friends.  Even though we don’t understand the reason for suffering, we can cling to Jesus, who even though He knows the answers to our questions, doesn’t lecture us with explanations, he shares in our grief.  He doesn’t hit us over the head with theology; He weeps alongside us.  He doesn’t trivialize our pain, He bears it with us.  Why, how, what now?

Isn’t it strange how it often takes death to put life into perspective?  After my friend shared what had happened to her friend, my first instinct was to run to my two children, gather them into my arms, and never let them go.  All through church, my mind raced with promises to never take for granted those little moments, to extend extra grace, to err on the side of mercy, to call my grandmother everyday, to work less, love more, never turn away those little arms when they reach up for a hug or beg for one more book.  It’s tragedy that often shakes us back to the reality of what matters.  Because it’s not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. When loss, stress, and despair knock us off our feet, the fire of it all refines our focus. I left church with the questions: why?  how?  what now?  I left with the lingering thought, “What if I lived everyday with the perspective that tragedy brings?”  What if I lived in the moment, focused on the present?  What if I stopped trying to figure out the “right thing to say” and just grieved with my friends?  While tragedy is wretched, it offers an opportunity to “bear one another’s burdens.”  It gives us an opportunity to look beyond our own pain to see the pain of others.  We live in a world filled with tragedy and pain, yet we also are filled with Hope, and Hope is a person, Jesus.  Tragedy allows us to share that Hope with others and help provide healing to a broken world.

To my dear friends who can’t see through the cloud, know that Jesus loves you, that your church loves you, and that I love you.  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God…..Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you….Do not be afraid for I am with you.”  Isaiah 43.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne.  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; his mercies are new every morning.” Lamentations 3:22-23

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