This week my friend led our small group through a meditation on hope. Considering the experiences, both past and present, of members our group, it was an ambitious and sorely needed reflection. Despite our faith, life seems dark and hard at the moment for some and sometimes we need reminding to choose hope over being consumed by the darkness. I especially needed the gentle reminder. It has left me trying to articulate why and how I hope.
On a wall somewhere in my high school was this quote:
"Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope."
- Author Unknown
As a teenager with depression, I thought I understood this to some degree. But in the ten years since high school, I have begun to live and believe this idea with greater fervency and need than I ever could have imagined then.
If it were not for hope, I would not be alive today. Literally. Hope has saved me on multiple occasions from the dark road of self harm and suicide. Hope has saved me from losing all perspective when I, or dear ones around extreme difficulties. I would not call myself a natural optimist. In fact, I've had to work very hard to not automatically see the worst in any given situation. Depression, as a mindset, teaches you to misread and distort the truths that appear around you. In this context hope is very hard to maintain, and yet absolutely essential to fight for!
A couple of summers ago, my life fell apart. I was already struggling with the worst episode of depression I'd ever had, when a number of factors beyond my control sent me spiralling into severe anxiety, resulting in panic attacks which I had never experienced before. Those months were the blackest months of my life. During that time Ian and Gina (and their daughter Anna) welcomed me into their home and their family. They loved me and cared for me unconditionally. They sat with me though panic attacks and hours of tears. They talked through my deepest hurts and fears with me. They prayed with me. They taught me how to love reality tv shows, and that laughing was irreplaceable medicine. They spoke words of life and hope over me, when I had no capacity to think straight and believe in anything much.
I vividly remember the morning the first ray of hope and light broke through my wall of pain. Sitting at the kitchen bench sipping a cup of tea, I was unable to move with the weight of all that was on my heart and in my head. Ian was speaking to me, when I was overcome with the sense that I was loved. I WAS LOVED. In that moment I was struck with the undeniable reality that I was loved, by God, and by this family that had seen me in my darkest hours. I can't explain why it was that moment I trusted that truth, except to say that the weeks of persistent, practical love and hope finally started to break through my thick head! It was in that moment I knew that there was HOPE. And that hope was life-giving. In that moment, I believe, I experienced the love and grace of God in the most real and profound way. That beloved family were the hands and feet of Christ in my life that summer.
The road back from that dark time was long and windy. And there have been other really difficult times since then. But I have lived through each day in the knowledge that there is hope and that it is the only thing giving me breath.
Now, Ian, Gina and their family are facing one of the darkest time of their lives. Ian is recovering from a blood clot, a stroke and a number of very serious brain surgeries (among other things). There have been a number of times in the last three months when I, and others around me, have been tempted to lose hope. This situation is so unfair. This situation doesn't make any sense. Why do things improve only to get much worse? Will things ever return to ‘normal’?
Towards the end of our evening together this past Wednesday, my friend asked us to think about what we hope for, and what our hope is in. It is easy to think of what I hope for: Ian to recover quickly and fully; for my body to heal from months of post-viral syndrome; my mind to heal from years of depression; and the list goes on.
But being able to describe what my hope is in is a little harder. But I was reminded of this beautiful passage from Colossians:
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.
Colossians 1:15-20 (The Message)
Hope, for me, is in the knowledge of a God who loves and cares; a God who redeems and restores all things, creating vibrant harmonies where there once was pain and hurt; A God who blesses us with more than we can imagine or dare to ask for.
I believe I am blessed to have already caught glimpses here and now of the restoration that is promised in Christ. I have seen fractured relationships restored lovingly. I’ve experienced the beginnings of restoration to my completely tattered self-esteem. I’ve seen beauty come out of life’s tragic circumstances.
And these glimpses spur me on to hope more....
That is what I hope for.
"Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing: that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us."
— Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)