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Wrestling Hope

“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: ‘Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.'” Jurgen Moltmann

I’ve wrestled a lot with hope in the last few years. Mostly to try and send it away. “Hope deferred makes a heart sick.” I’ve had enough of being sick. But allowing oneself to venture into hell is a dangerous thing as well. I know – I’ve wandered into hell more than once as of late and couldn’t muster the strength to find my way back out.

I’ve taken to resisting comfort. I’ve fallen for it too many times before. I’ve read the words of scripture and their promises that God will not abandon me or let me fall. My heart has leapt at them only to find that holding onto comfort is like holding onto water as it slips out between your fingers. And God is no where to be seen but my failure is all around me. Better not to let myself try to grab hold any more.

I’ve gazed at the cross with its promise of redemption after suffering. But Jesus’ suffering lasted for a weekend and mine is lasting for years. Jesus’ suffering was probably greater than mine, but it’s not a competition. My neighbor’s broken leg doesn’t make my broken heart hurt any less. I’d say I just want my suffering to end, but the damage has already been done. What difference does it make now?

And then I realize that it is an evil thing I’m fighting with which bids me to remain in hell and refuse comfort as too little too late and far too quickly gone. I’m tired of keeping up the fight. But behind this evil that I’m wresting with are a whole hoard of demons just waiting to rush forward and devour the ones I love. There are generational curses straining mightily to break through. And demons of rejection and abandonment waiting to sink their teeth into young children’s hearts. There’s resentment and confusion that will lead a teen down misshapen paths to no where. There’s weariness and betrayal and anger that never rests looking for unguarded cracks to set up infection in a barely healing soul.

I resent it – being pinned down by all this evil. Having to keep up this fight rather than allow myself to walk away or be swept up by some worldly comfort until it takes my life with it. Even Jesus got to die in the end.

And along comes a three year old who drapes herself into my arms, looks up at me and says in her baby way, “you love me mom.”

Yes I do baby.

“I love you. I love Noah. Noah loves me. Everyone loves me.”

Yes they do, baby.

And then an 8 year old comes in.

“I just want to be with you for a minute.”

How come?

“I dunno. I just feel good when I’m by you.”

A six year old brings a picture she’s painted.

“It’s for you. It says ‘joy’! Do you like it?”

She’s made her J backwards so it really says “Loy”.

It’s wonderful, pretty girl.

“Joy” it is.

I start to find my feet again for the first time in days. The evil’s still there, but I’m not pinned down under the force of it now.

Later I’m stumbling again and a 17 year year old boy stops to put on a song for me before putting his arms around me. When he was younger he made his own sound effects every where he went. Today, he keeps a sound track going.

“What you need to remember is that you’ve done good, mom. Even if the rest of the world is to stubborn to admit it to you, you’ve done good.”

I wanted life to be better for you. I didn’t mean for it to be this hard.

The thirteen year old chimes in.

“We’d both be ruined if it weren’t for you. Life is hard. But at least we know that we can handle it. That’s more than most people can say.”

And finally, finally, the ones I keep up the battle for have gotten me steady enough on my feet to walk away out of hell and away from the evil. I don’t know that I’m ready to hope exactly. But I think it will be a while before I wander back into hell again. And that’s no small thing.

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8 thoughts on “Wrestling Hope

  1. I’ve wrestled a lot with existential suffering, also.

    My theory is that “heaven” and “hell” are spiritual states since there is no space-time continuum in Eternity. Therefore, although it feels like hell, it’s only purgatory.

    Some of my favorite quotes on suffering:

    To suffer is to have anything—great or small—otherwise than as you wish or will or want it to be. If your self-will is powerful and untamed, you will “suffer” horribly when you miss a train or run out of cigarettes: if your self-will is wholly conformed to the will of God, as manifested in the circumstances of the moment, you can undergo extremes of physical pain without “suffering” at all. Hence the joy of the martyrs: hence the serenity of an agonizing but saintly death-bed. –Christopher Derrick, That Strange Divine Sea

    God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering. ~Saint Augustine

    To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.–Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

    The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering.–Carl Jung

    “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” – Simone Weil

    A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing. –Martin Luther

    “It is an awful truth that suffering can deepen us, give a greater luster to our colors, a higher resonance to our wounds. That is if it doesn’t destroy us, if it doesn’t burn away the optimism and the spirit, the capacity for visions, and the respect for simple yet indispensable things.”–Anne Rice

    “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” ― Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

    The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive, and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. –Helen Keller

    Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies?–Erich Fromm, Psychoanalyst

    You cannot make this journey in your head—or even in the perfection of moral response. Full transformation is finally resolved in you, when you agree to bear the mystery of God: God’s suffering for the world and God’s ecstasy in the world at the same time. The joyous birth of three days ago is followed today by the story of a tragic killing of innocent children (Matthew 2:13). Agreeing to love and trust this history of absurdity, death, and contradictions is much harder, I’m afraid, than just trying to be “good.” ~Richard Rohr

    We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it. This counterintuitive wisdom will forever be resisted, denied, and avoided, until it is forced upon us—by some reality over which we are powerless — and if we are honest, we are all powerless in the presence of full Reality. – Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water

    You seek for God, beloved soul, and he is everywhere, everything speaks of him, everything offers him to you, he walks beside you, he surrounds you and is within you. He lives with you and yet you try to find him. You seek your own idea of God, although you have him in his reality. You seek perfection and you meet it in all that happens to you. All you suffer, all you do, all your inclinations are mysteries under which God gives himself to you while you are vainly straining after high-flown fancies. — Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

    Labels
    The important thing is not to know who “I” is or what “I” is.  You’ll never succeed.  There are no words for it.  The important thing is to drop the labels.  As the Japanese Zen masters say, “Don’t seek the truth; just drop your opinions.”  Drop your theories; don’t seek the truth.  Truth isn’t something you search for.  If you stop being opinionated, you would know.  Something similar happens here.  If you drop your labels, you would know.  What do I mean by labels?  Every label you can conceive of except perhaps that of human being.  I am a human being.  Fair enough; doesn’t say very much.  But when you say, “I am successful,” that’s crazy.  Success is not part of the “I”.  Success is something that comes and goes; it could be here today and gone tomorrow.  That’s not “I”.  When you said, “I was a success,” you were in error; you were plunged into darkness.  You identified yourself with success.  The same thing when you said, “I am a failure, a lawyer, a businessman.” You know what’s going to happen to you if you identify yourself with these things.  You’re going to cling to them, you’re going to be worried that they may fall apart, and that’s where your suffering comes in.  That is what I meant earlier when I said to you, “If you’re suffering, you’re asleep.” Do you want a sign that you’re asleep? Here it is: You’re suffering.  Suffering is a sign that you’re out of touch with the truth.  Suffering is given to you that you might open your eyes to the truth, that you might understand that there’s falsehood somewhere, just as physical pain is given to you so you will understand that there is disease or illness somewhere.  Suffering points out that there is falsehood somewhere.  Suffering occurs when you clash with reality.  When your illusions clash with reality when your falsehoods clash with the truth, then you have suffering.  Otherwise there is no suffering. — Anthony De Mello

    TRUE FREEDOM — To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk being called sentimental. To reach out to another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk showing your true self. To place your ideas and your dreams before a crowd is to risk being called naive. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair, and to try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. Chained by things that are certain, he is a slave. He has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free. –Anonymous

    God, whose law it is, that he who learns must suffer.
    And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget,
    falls drop by drop upon the heart,
    and in our own despite, and against our will,
    comes wisdom to us, by the awful grace of God …
    ~ Aeschylus

    Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth. –Fyodor Dostoevsky, novelist (1821-1881)

    There is only one true flight from the world; it is not an escape from conflict, anguish and suffering, but the flight from disunity and separation, to unity and peace in the love of other men.~Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation.

    You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing and dance, and write poems and suffer and understand, for all that is life. ~J. Krishnamurti

    “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.” -James Baldwin (1924-1987)

    “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.
    What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God. ”
    — Flannery O’Connor , The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

    “If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables –of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and most of all, things unfair.” — Madame Jeanne Guyon

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  2. I thought it interesting that your daughter’s painting appeared to say “Loy.” In the poem “The Faerie Queen,” there are three knights named Sans Loy, Sans Foy and Sans Joy. “Loy” in this instance means “law.” (“Foy” means faith. “Joy” is, well, joy. So the three knights are Lawless, Faithless and Joyless.) But seeing “Loy” got me thinking about the law of God, how Paul said it was necessary for revealing the sin in our lives and our need for redemption. As a result, the law brings sorrow and distress. But the gospel of God’s grace brings joy. So, in a way, joy and loy exist to complement each other, but as opposites. The opposite of “loy” is joy. Just a thought. :)

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  3. “Shepherd,” she said despairingly, “I can’t understand this. The guides you gave me say that we must go down there into that desert, turning right away from the High Places altogether. You don’t mean that, do you? You can’t contradict yourself. Tell them we are not to go there, and show us another way. Make a way for us, Shepherd, as you promised.”
    He looked at her very gently, “That is the path, Much Afraid, and you are to go down there.”
    “Oh, no,” she cried. “You can’t mean it. You said that if I would trust you, you would bring me to the High Places, and that path leads right away from them. It contradicts all that you promised.”
    “No,” said the Shepherd, “it is not contradiction, only postponement for the best to become possible.”
    Much-Afraid felt as though he had stabbed her in the heart. “You mean,” she said incredulously, “You really mean that I am to follow that path down and down into that wilderness and then over that desert, away from the mountains indefinitely? Why?” (and there was a sob of anguish in her voice) “it may be months, even years, before that path leads back to the mountains again. O shepherd, do you mean it is indefinite postponement?”
    He bowed his head silently, and Much-Afraid sank to her knees at His feet, almost overwhelmed. He was leading her away from her heart’s desire altogether and gave no promise at all as to when he would bring her back. As she looked out over what seemed an endless desert, the only path she could see led farther and farther away from the High Places, and it was all desert.
    Then he answered very quietly, “Much-Afraid, do you love me enough to accept the postponement and the apparent contradiction of the promise, and to go down there with me into the desert?”
    She was still crouching at his feet sobbing as if her heart would break, but now she looked up through her tears, caught his hand in hers and said, trembling, “I do love you, you know that I love you. Oh, forgive me because I can’t help my tears. I will go down with you into the wilderness, right away from the promise, if you really wish it. Even if you cannot tell me why it has to be, I will go with you, for you know I do love you and you have the right to choose for me anything that you please.”

    -Hind’s Feet on High Places, chapter 6 :)

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    • It would seem that there are Two Families in the household of God. Summer Christians and Winter Christians, those who seek mostly consolation from their faith experiences and those who seek mostly Realty/Truth, existential truths, not theological abstractions, from their faith experiences.
      I suspect that those who seek to live authentically, refusing to engage in denial and other psychological defense mechanisms to avoid the psychological pain that the harsh realities of life cause have a higher tolerance for psychological pain than those who cannot face any reality that challenges them to live outside of their psychological comfort zones.

      “We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it. This counterintuitive wisdom will forever be resisted, denied, and avoided, until it is forced upon us—by some reality over which we are powerless — and if we are honest, we are all powerless in the presence of full Reality.” – Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water

      I recommend Richard Beck’s book The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience for a deeper understanding of the psychological dynamics of our faith experiences. Formal religion offers a “one-size fits all,” cookie-cutter religion with prescribed beliefs and accepted ways to express a formal faith. That is why local churches are so often nominally religious social clubs rather than transformational faith communities whose members are more like the Sheeple of God than a People of God.

      From the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church:

      Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily sere the world in his name.

      “To be redeemed is not merely to be absolved of guilt before God, it is also to live in Christ, to be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, to be in Him a new creature, to live in the Spirit.” ~Thomas Merton

      “Over the last 20 years, God has taken me deeper and deeper into His own heart. He has transformed me (and has promised to continue that!) with revelation, by lavishing His Love, and sometimes by saying, ‘this one will now suffer for a season’. I know Him, trust Him, and love Him. So excuse me when I find it funny when some Facebook person questions my “salvation” because I don’t line up with their exact doctrine.” ~ David Wilson

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  4. What I can see of your heart in your blog is beautiful! And I think you let your heart show honestly here. I’m glad your children showed you love when you most needed it! I’m sorry things have been so hard for so long, and I’m impressed by what a fighter you are.

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  5. Hi, Rebecca,
    I’m glad you walked out of hell; I hope:) you will keep walking into hope because as your opening quote said, “Hell is hopelessness.” I kind of think that if you walk out of hell you must walk into hope, or you’re still in hell. I love your kids.

    “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5, NLT).

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  6. Pingback: Falling Together « The Upside Down World

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