Hope does not mean that we will avoid or be able to ignore suffering, of course. Indeed, hope born of faith becomes matured and purified through difficulty. The surprise we experience in hope, then, is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected. For even when they do not we can still live with a keen hope. The basis of our hope has to do with the One who is stronger than life and suffering. Faith opens us up to God’s sustaining, healing presence. A person in difficulty can trust because of a belief that something else is possible. To trust is to allow for hope.
I posted this on the day we found out Thomas was not a rapid responder and would need more intensive chemotherapy. I return to it again as we wait for the final word on Thomas’ cancer. Treatment completion is a double-edged sword; on the one hand there is tremendous relief to know Thomas will no longer suffer the effects of chemotherapy. On the other hand now there is nothing else to do. The chemotherapy can no longer make the metastases disappear. It has done its work and we pray its work has been effective and complete. And, now we wait. And we hope, and turn fear away as it knocks at the soul’s door.
I have been thinking about the twins Worry and Fear. Ever present in my life as a child, they filled my young mind with consuming thoughts of Soviet invasions killing my family, AIDS infecting us all, my father’s failing health and impending death, and other wild thoughts far too dark for a child. My mom would pray for me and I would pray and they would leave for a time. What a strange child I was! Maybe it was my father’s terminal illness that made the future frightening and ominous. My own children don’t seem to be troubled with such dark thoughts. I can feel that consuming fear even now, the inability to escape the feelings of panic, the enveloping sense of dread. My father did die and I feared it. Then I feared my mother remarrying. Then I feared ever experiencing chronic illness again. I knew what that looked like, I had experienced it, and did not ever want to deal with it again. If there was one thing I dreaded, it was an on-going illness for someone I loved.
Life continued and a certain point kept being made with all these fears. They were never realized in the way my mind conjured them up. My father died and it wasn’t anything like I had imagined it to be. The loss was deep and significant but there was also relief and joy. It felt like the sun had come out after a long absence. Death didn’t hang over our house anymore. Joy returned and with it new experiences. My mother didn’t remarry. But I did marry someone with a chronic illness.
When we married, we knew Mark had ulcerative cholitis. I could handle that. We might have to change our diet and he might need surgery but that I could handle. That was fine. That was manageable. When he was constantly denied for life insurance and then finally diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, I did feel a deep betrayal. This was the one thing I said no to. This was the one thing I did not want for myself or my children, much less for my husband. I walked through the feelings of betrayal and abandonment by God with a trusted mentor and in them I finally saw mercy, albeit severe, but mercy all the same. It was like viewing a painting from a certain point where everything is distorted and disfigured and then shifting the vantage point and seeing it all in perspective and proportion. Like stepping back from a Monet and seeing the water lilies emerge. In Mark’s illness I saw God’s ultimate love for me to take me out of my prison of fear to see that the Holy Spirit really does deserve more credit. The thing I thought was impossible for me to bear or to survive is the place of deepest healing and grace. It is the place of ultimate safety.
So now I turn and think about all we have been through with Thomas. This experience did not come to us in a void. God’s economy is perfect; experiences are never wasted. In His tenderness He prepared us to face these days of trial. And He has cured me of worry. Not that I don’t want to or don’t think about effects or wonder about recovery. I do. But the encompassing fear of the future is gone. I finally realize that all of my prognostications are most likely wrong. The pain will probably be deeper but so will the joy and it will all be mixed together in an amazing way that only God could do. And pain and grief can be comforted in a way worry and fear never can. Worry and fear isolate and have an element of control in them that keeps me from God and from others. Pain and grief, turned to the Lord are the places of deepest solace and most profound peace. In them, I see the Lord and His goodness. How this is true, I don’t know. I only know it is true. I have known it.
I recently came across this quote in the book The Mountain of Silence. It leapt out of the book to me because it put into words what I have experienced but couldn’t quite pin down. I read it and knew I was not the only one to know God like this.
“Something very paradoxical happens within the hearts of Christians who experience, for one reason or another, deep grief and sorrow,” Father Maximos went on to say. “It is the mystery of God’s Grace. While everything goes wrong at a certain point there is a sudden inner transformation and illumination. That which was experienced as intense grief now becomes the cause of a great amount of Grace, so much so that the bitterness of the grief is annihilated. Grief is transmuted into ineffable joy. I don’t know if this makes any sense to you, but it is true.”
Yes, it is. It doesn’t make any sense but it is true. Hope is not based on outcomes; it is based on the goodness of God. I have tasted His goodness and I know it. No matter the outcome, that never changes. I know Him to be trustworthy so my hope is founded in trust. Not in a blind wishing sort-of-a way but in the abiding knowledge of the Psalms.
“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6).
Holding on to hope as we wait.