I live in a church culture that understands living in the tension of pain and joy. That’s a great thing. People don’t expect you to experience life as a series of smiles followed by lots of belly laughter. When you are feeling hopeless or are suffering, it’s good to know that this is a common for every believer. There are people who have gone before you and will come after you who have identical struggles, and you are not alone. That’s good news and mollifies my hungry soul when my spirit won’t rise because of despair.
And I’m familiar with despair. He is a familiar enemy. I have to fight for joy and hope. One of my favorite books is When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy by John Piper. It’s underlined, reread and highlighted—a well-worn and appreciated book. So, I fight hand and fist, teeth, hair, and eyeballs for joy. My life story is filled with failure in that fight—evidenced by the anti-depressant prescription bottles littering the path.
I had a conversation today with a dear friend who has experienced great pain with one of her children, “How are you?” I asked. She was hesitant to reply.
“Living in the tension?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“But there is great hope in Christ,” I said with great emotion.
Her reply, “But that doesn’t mean we won’t be sad.”
“I know, “ I answered and left.
Lately, when I interject hope, people keep bringing up, “but life is hard.” Really? Since when?
I feel like others see me as a crazy Pollyanna—denying the trouble and devising reasons to hope in God. I know that life is rocky. I experience struggles that send me flailing before the throne of God with a box of tissues in my hand. I don’t need to be reminded that’s life’s hard, but I do need to be reminded that there is hope. I need to remember that I’m not alone, and Someone bigger than me is present in my life. I need to be like Caleb and Joshua standing at the entrance of the Promised Land saying, “Yes, there are giants, but God is here. There is hope.”
Right now: a friend is dying of pancreatic cancer, another has a son who has brain cancer, one has had to fly to help parents and may need to move them her direction. Another friend’s mom is in the hospital, one has marriage problems, personal sickness strikes another, children are prodigals, pain torments someone else, financial despair plagues another. These are close personal friends for whom I’m praying and weeping daily. Dare I go on? Do you want to be my friend?
As I left my friend, I parked in a McDonald’s parking lot to wait for a meeting. I was ruminating on my earlier conversation. I thought of our need to remember, not that life is hard, but that God reigns in the heavens. Our hearts are screaming, “Is anyone out there?”
At that moment, I caught sight of a satellite dish on the building in front of me. I was reminded of all the science fiction movies when humans tried to contact alien forces, or vice versa. Instinctively we know that we’re not alone, and we search for contact.
Our hearts cry out, “Are you there, O God, or are we alone?” I can almost see the cries of hurting souls rising from the earth like sound waves. “How long, O Lord? How long?” we ask as we lift our eyes to the heavens.
And the Alien force of God Almighty thunders His response to our, “Is anyone there?” with a triumphant voice that overwhelms the waves of despair.
“YES! I’m here. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! THERE IS HOPE! Even when you die there is hope. When you breathe, there is hope. When you cry, there is hope. When life feels more like a ball and chain and you crash to the ground on your knees with utter hopelessness, there is hope. I HAVE NOT LEFT YOU NOW, AND I WILL BE PRESENT IN YOUR FUTURE. I AM GOD, AND I AM HERE.
WE ARE NOT ALONE!
I AM NOT ALONE!
You have permission to remind me of that as often as you please.
The absolutely mad,