The Hard Kernel of Hope in the Sweet Despair

I’m processing out loud here.

So, I shared with my team yesterday in our team meeting what Jesus had done with me in Philly (see the last post). I didn’t have a goal with it, I just sensed that the Lord wanted me to share it with them, to maybe clarify their own emotional situations or to give some flesh to their observations of their friends and neighbors. But, as always, we had an open floor for conversation and a few really good things ensued.

One of the guys reflected on his own observations of his friends, and how all of them seem to reflect that hopelessness in the way they describe their situations. Some even going so far as to ask, “Why did God fate me to have such a terrible life?”

One of the ladies gave voice to her frustration and anger at how women are treated here. Not so much how she’s treated, but rather how women in this culture are property. We had seen a man a few days before beat his wife up on the beach. A couple of us had approached to intervene, and the wife shouted us off. “Who are you?!? This is my husband! Who are you?!?!?!” That had rocked my friend, and she had since been struggling to manage her own anger over that, and the sickness in her gut over the situation here for women.

She actually asked what we should do about the sickness, the despair. She said something like, “I don’t have any answers. I don’t know what I’d tell a woman if she asked me what to do. Even the believers have this fatalism, and think this is the way it must always be. What do we do? Do we just sit in it?”

And in that question, something came clear for me. I sat with the question for a moment, trying to say “no”. But I couldn’t. What I said amounted to this: We sit in it, but not passively. We don’t hang our arms over the precipice and shout down to our friends that we have the answer. We don’t shout down. We jump down into the dark with them. We willingly fall into the hole. And when we strike bottom, we hold our friends’ hands and we, together, cry out to God to save us. Not, “God, go help them.” Rather, “God, come save us. Us. The people down in this hole. We. We need a Savior.”

That might make you uncomfortable. That isn’t my goal. But, well…yeah.

Our 4 2-month interns were apparently much helped by the meeting. Seeing a team wrestle with honesty, anger, and compassion over the people it serves was a good experience for them. One of them asked this question: “How do you not get lost in the despair? If you’re going to embrace your neighbor’s hopelessness and pain, and own it as your own, how do you from there go about being light in the darkness? What about our hope?”

And in that question, something else became clear for me, as well. Down underneath the miasma of my friends’ despair (which is not often acute, but always there), I am not without hope. Down below it all, there is the hard kernel of indestructible hope. I can’t quite articulate how it’s connected to the resurrection of Jesus, but I can feel that it is. It can’t be drown, and it can’t be obliterated, and it can’t be washed away. It’s not some shining beacon, and it doesn’t really warm my belly, but I have hope. I am, after all, His. But that hope doesn’t make the despair any less real. For example, my friend died without Christ last year. I’ll go to his one-year funeral next month. I have no hope for him. And nothing assuages that. I despair – for him. My own hope does nothing for that. And that’s how it should be, I think. But even that despair does not push out or push away the acorn of stubborn hope.

But it’s important to note that Jesus never said to us, “Be the light of the world.” He said, “You are the light of the world. I am the light. I don’t need to worry myself over “if I embrace the darkness around me, how can I be the light?”. I am the light, and I will embrace the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. Light wins by contact with darkness, not by pushing it away.

I explained it to my interns this way. Culture stress, situational stressors, family conflicts, the emotional violence of being displaced, homelessness, sickness, fatigue – these all have been chipping away at our emotional body armor, and for some of us it’s beginning to crack. What has happened as a result is that the emotional atmosphere here has gained admittance into our hearts. And that was always the Plan. Now, inside us, the risen Lord will meet the despair of Narnya, the gospel will encounter the pain of this place. Not on some white board or on some theologian’s legal pad. Inside our guts, in our hearts, in our raw and raggedy souls. And in the mix, the Invitation might emerge. We might come to know in our bones something of how the gospel speaks to the Narnyan heart. A gift we might not have likely received nor been able to give another way.

The way this plays out might look like this. If 3 weeks ago, my Narnyan friend Abe would have expressed frustration at his own despair, or that nothing here would ever change, I would have opened my Bible and unpacked how the gospel can speak to all that and how Jesus is coming to make all things new. And he would have looked at me and he would have known that, fundamentally, I did not understand.

If the same interaction were to happen today, I’m pretty sure it would look different. I expect I’d tear up. I might even cry. We’d talk about what he’s feeling and we’d known that we understand each other. And then I might open my Bible and we’d look together at how Jesus says he’s making all things new. And, again weeping, I imagine I’d hold my friend’s hand and I’d ask with him for Jesus to make all things new. To make this place new. And I’d ask him to save us, and to show us how to help.

And then, if Abe was game, I’d offer to explore the Bible with him so we could find out together how to help Jesus make this place new. Because, honestly, I don’t have a flipping clue. I truly don’t know. But, I have this hard kernel of hope inside me that insists that Jesus does, so we’d be disciples together. And when Abe wanted to be Jesus’s assistant more than he wanted to be accepted by his people, he might even ask for baptism.

Maybe it wouldnâ’t look like that at all. But maybe you can see the difference. In the first instance I’d try to cure the problem. That dehumanizes people. I am strong and you are weak. You have problems, and I have answers. You are sick and I have medicine. The opposite of cure is care. In the second instance I’d be caring. I’d be caring because I feel it, too.

The thing is, we never lead someone out of the valley of the shadow of death. That’s never been in our power, and it’s never been our job. Our job is to lose our step and fall into the valley with them, and when we get there (as the people who know God), we start crying out for God to come find us, and to lead us home. And maybe that’s how they learn to do it, too. Maybe that’s how they learn Christ.

At least, at this point, that’s what I’m thinking. I’m not sure it’s right. I just know this is where I’m going because I don’t see a better way that is honest with both the Lord and my friends at the same time. Answers are easier. But easy never saved anyone.

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Al Henson

enjoying your thoughts.. delighted that it helps me learn.. keep up with you guys and better know how to pray..

sterling

V. We cry with you. Sometimes in our pain of helplessness we can only know that G. is good in our hearts while we hold their hands and cry. Sounds like G. Is teaching you how to walk in others suffering yet feel like it is your own. I cannot imagine the grieving you all feel daily. Know He does! We stand holding up your arms in p. while you sit with them and Love you all.

proskuneo

I read here more of the positional intercession I mentioned in my comment on your last blog. And I just keep hearing Romans 4:18-25. Hoping against hope. Hope is not turning a blind eye to reality. Hope does not insulate itself emotionally from the tragedy. Hope is facing the facts. Hope is not naive. Our God is the God of hope. It is one of the ways in which He defines Himself. And right now, He is as hopeful about Narnya as He has ever been. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you… Read more »