I caught up with a dear friend this week. It’s been almost two years since we’ve really dug into conversation together, which seems crazy because he is one of my favorite people. He has the truest heart, and the deepest faith, and, like me, is a frequent public weeper–so…solidarity!
He also knows what it is like to live with chronic illness–a kidney transplant from decades ago still needs regular monitoring. Truthfully, back then, no one thought he would live as long as he has. And one of the gifts of our time together was a real and honest conversation about what it’s like to grapple with your own mortality, and, in doing so, find yourself grateful for the opportunity.
We talked about being grateful for having stared at the reality of death.
There are things that happen to all of us in this life that are very difficult to be sure. But there are also things that happen to us that leave us wondering if we will survive. You will, at some point in your life, face something that you truly believe might be the end of you. It might be loss–of a dream or a relationship or a person. It might be betrayal–your own or someone else’s. It might be illness–chronic or terminal. It might be addiction–to a harmful substance or a process. It might be the pain of your child. It might be mental illness.
It might simply be feeling completely bereft of any hope that things will get better–in your own life, or perhaps even in the world.
And in the darkest and scariest moments of whatever has happened, you may be so certain you won’t survive that you pray for the end to go ahead and come quickly. Pain and grief can literally take our breath away, leaving us feeling as if there’s a concrete block placed just so on our hearts.
Staring into the abyss of that which seems it will destroy us is nothing short of the deepest agony. And whether you are rich or poor, or a Democrat or a Republican or neither one, or black or brown or white, or a Christian or Jew or Muslim or agnostic–none of these things will protect you from the kind of pain that I’m talking about here.
To be fully alive is to know deep love, and, as a result, deep pain. Not even Captain America’s shield can deflect it.
My own life is centered on loving God and following Jesus as best I can. Sometimes I do this better than other times–but I never get it entirely right. Still, the faith I have been taught hinges on tremendous, life-altering, grief and pain and betrayal. It is built on having lost all hope, on believing that nothing will ever be okay again.
And then into the void of everything lost — life. And with that life, hope.
Not a Pollyanna, rainbows and unicorns hope. Not, “I hope Target is still open.” or “I hope we win the game Friday night.” Not even, “I hope ________ becomes President.”
No. It’s bigger than All. That.
I mean hope that literally reaches down its hand to pull you from the sadness and fear of all that surrounds you, such that you are lifted to a place where grace has space to rain down its restorative and gentle mercy into the very center of our hurt, softening the pain just enough, that something beyond it becomes possible.
I mean the hope born of resurrection. Of Good Friday having swallowed us whole, and then Sunday coming, offering of a way out of the darkness.
I am often asked how I am able to be a person of hope. And I am never quite sure what to say to that in the moment. The obvious answer is that I just am. My whole life has led me to believe that all is not, and never will be, lost.
But also? This: Once you have survived what you think you cannot anything becomes possible. And once you understand this, you become grateful.
Even for the pain.
And all around us right now is pain–in our own lives, perhaps, but certainly in our communities, and most definitely our world. And there are days when it can seem that hope is, at best, futile.
But in the words of a colleague of mine who has stared down the death of addiction and lived to witness to the miracle of his own life made whole, “I have seen too much.”
And y’all, I have seen too much that seemed beyond repair, that somehow, in ways I don’t even understand, found a path to healing.
And so I will continue to cling to whatever hope is available to me…to us…because I cannot believe that the God that loved us into being will leave us without a way forward.
My prayer these days is that we have hearts humble and open enough to seek that way.
I suspect it will take some dying to what has been.
This is, after all, how resurrection begins.