Why We Hope When All Hope Is Lost

Yesterday I got to revisit one of my most read blog posts ever (and one of my favorite bible stories!) in a guest post for To Love Honor and Vacuum. I loved getting to work with Sheila and she was such an encouragement, but when she first asked me to write a new version of a piece I’d written over two years ago I wasn’t completely sure I’d be able to do it.

black-and-white-woman-girl-sittingIt was certainly an interesting exercise to reflect on the same issue from such a different place in life . . . yet I write that and I think, “Is it a different place in life?” After all, the post is about singleness, and I am still single.

. . . Or single again, depending on whether you see singleness as being unattached, or whether it’s a binary along with married — you’re either one or the other . . .

I tend to think in binary. Married or unmarried. For me, being in a relationship was the part of the one that felt like the other. You’re still adrift at sea, but you are in sight of land. Though maybe not close enough to it to tell if it’s a habitable island, or if it’s just the wreckage of another ship passing you.

As I wrote, I found I was less drawn to the idea of desperation, and more inclined to talk about hopelessness. Hopelessness, I feel, comes after desperation. It was desperation that made Sarah forget herself and laugh when she was eavesdropping on her husband’s conversation with the messengers of God — laugh, perhaps, to keep from crying. It was hopelessness that inspired her to give her handmaid, Hagar, to her husband Abraham to produce the offspring God had promised.

“Hopelessness is dangerous,” I wrote in my Confessions . . . and I believe it. I don’t think Sarah new what she was giving away. The birthright of the firstborn is a powerful thing in Hebrew culture. And though I believe that God honored and cared for Ishmael as Abraham’s son, the sibling rivalry between the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac carries on throughout the entirety of the Old Testament and even down to the present day.  All because of a moment of hopelessness on the part of one woman.

In regards to marriage . . . part of me goes “Are we still talking about this? I’m so tired of talking about this!” . . . but in regards to marriage, I recently broke something I had kept for a long time in hopes of that day. It wasn’t out of anger or frustration. I simply broke it in carelessness. I had stopped believing it mattered. I had allowed my circumstanced to become my god and because of that I sacrificed something deeply important to me on the altar of hopelessness.

“Oh, there goes another thing I won’t need,” I thought, numb. Then it hit me like a flood a few days later and, sobbing, I dug the wreckage out of the trash can and squirreled it away somewhere, in hope of God knows what.

But in hope . . . hope it so buoyant. That is both the most miraculous part and the most painful. Our hearts were built for hope. And even long after the object of our hope is destroyed, long after we’ve doused the fire, a single look or word can kindle the spark again.

If you’re biblical scholar (or you simply looked it up like I did), you’ll notice that the second story I mentioned about Sarah actually comes before the first. Ishmael was born years before the messengers came to herald the birth of Isaac, and the promise of offspring was given to Abraham many, many years before that. I’m sure Sarah had smothered the flame of her hope more times than she could count.

Then God himself comes to have tea with Abraham and it stirs the embers in Sarah’s heart again. She lingers close to the wall of the tent where she can hear what the messengers have to say about God’s long-forgotten promise. We can only assume she held her breath because the response comes bursting out when she hears the words spoken.

And she laughs. She laughs because she realizes that, even after seeing her husband raise another women’s child as his heir, all the hope is not dead in her heart. She laughs at God and His audacity to promise such a thing. She laughs at her own foolishness for believing it.

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:27). And that’s the way it feels to hope when our circumstances don’t justify it, it feels shameful. Believing in our circumstances seems wise, believing in God despite our circumstances feels foolish.

But that is what makes us like Him. If there’s anything that characterizes the God of the Bible, it is unrelenting, often unrealistic, hope for His people. Our hearts were made for hope because our hearts were made for Him.

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Where Do You Keep Your Hope Chest?

blue and white chinaI held the little pieces of glass in my hands, cupped in my palms, like I could will them back together. But it was all I could do to hold myself together at that moment.

I cry when things break, this is the way it works. It doesn’t matter if it’s something precious or a 200 rupee jar of jam that dropped out of the shopping bag on the way up the stairs. I don’t know what it is, maybe it reminds me of how easily larger things like hearts and relationships can shatter.

“It doesn’t matter,” I told myself, sitting there on the floor of my parents house staring at the box that had once contained my set of china, but now mostly just contained shards of it. I was alone. I could cry over it, however foolish I felt. It didn’t matter. But that was just the point — it didn’t matter. I was planning to give the china away anyhow.

Read the rest of my post at IndiAanya.

A Good Life

Go on up
to the place the glory dwells,
where the sunset turns that familiar skyline golden.
And let your soul be filled.

Drink in deep
of the air of that place
that reminds you winter’s on its way
and fall too soon will fade
and all of summer that remains
is what you carry within you.

Take it all in
let your ears fill with the bleating of goats in their alleyway pastures
and the bells of the delivery-boy bikes.
Stare so long at the sky that the Indian sun stains your retinas.
Let the wind blow through your teeth as you smile
at the sound of the leaves shivering ’round you.
This will all come and go like the flocks of doves spiral above you.
But the things inside you remain.

So let the gold
of that sky make you glow.
And let linger that light behind your eyes
so that no number of screen hours can leech it from you.
Keep the joy of a kite on the wind.
Let your heart fly high on its heartstrings.
Let the children dance across the rooftops in your memory.

But let the call of your passion be like the bird trainers’ song and follow it on.
This is a good life you leave behind,
and a good life you carry with you.

What To Do With Darkness

What do you do with the darkness? What do you do when the pictures pouring in are of rows of bodies, shrouded children killed in their sleep? What prayer do you pray to seek peace in the world or find peace in your soul?

What do you do when you can’t look away any longer? How will you speak when all words fail? Where do you put the pain that piles upon your heart till it can’t hold up?

And why? “Why? Why?” The question it asks as it’s breaking.

Why are we killing worlds? How can we snuff them out before their light has time to catch the air and glimmer? Where do they go after we suck them into the black hole of our fear and hatred and selfishness?

What difference can one voice make midst the din of weeping? Where is the light that signals dawn is coming? How will things ever come right?

And who? Who will heal us all?

“His life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

A Glimpse of What Will Come

I got this in the body of an email from my dad, subject: “I was shocked by this.”

A frightening title for an email from one’s father. But I was less shocked by the content than he was. Mostly because I’ve been watching for it.

It’s crazy to think that when I was a freshman in college (not too long ago) this was pure mythology. You’d hear whispers of it here or there (the ones I listened for), only from the most well-informed. The common-sense of the time said quite the opposite.

In an abortion talk several years ago at my church I asked the question, “What do I say to my friends who are worried about the overpopulation of the planet?” to a stunned audience with no answer. It was still a valid question then. Now it’s laughable. Only, we won’t be laughing for long.

And yet, even now, when it’s a well-known and highly publicized global crises, sending tremors through the psyches of those wise (or educated) enough to understand the implications, it’s the old view of the world that reigns supreme in the mind(s) of the masses. Our modern fast-past world has out-paced our social conscience, our ability to perceive and adapt, and I fear we will be left in a cloud of dust, unaware till it’s too late to matter.

I sometimes like to ask the question—to, say, a Youth Ministry major— “What do you think of the idea that, throughout your entire career, there will always be more people older than you than younger than you?” Maybe there should be such a thing as a Caregiving Ministry major.

This is from the email, stats originally published in The Future Church: Ten Trends that are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, by John L. Allan Jr.:

“What we know for sure is that by the time today’s twenty-year-olds reach retirement age, the population of the world will be contracting. The decline will be most aggravated in Europe and parts of Asia, including China, which could lose 20 to 30 percent of its population every generation beginning around mid-century. Declining fertility, coupled with the aging of the “baby boom” generation, means the elderly will be the fastest-growing segment of the global population, leading to substantial increases in the median age in most countries …”

“It took the United States fifty years, from 1950 to 2000, to increase its median age by five years, from 30 to 35. In the first fifty years of the twenty-first century, by way of contrast, Algeria will go from a median age of 21.7 to 40, a jump of almost 18 years in the same span of time. In Egypt, by 2050 the elderly population will be growing twice as fast as the working-age population. In China, the ratio of elders to young people will swell by a factor of four, with 26 percent of the population 60 or older by 2040, meaning some 360 million people. Demographers describe China as facing a 4-2-1 problem: Each young adult will potentially be caring for two parents, plus four grandparents. Brazil is aging at a rate 2.1 times that of the United States and 3.1 times faster than Holland. By 2050, according to the UN numbers, one quarter of Brazil’s population will be over 60, a total of 63 million people …”

“How far and how fast population will drop remains to be seen. The UN’s “low scenario,” which assumes that fertility rates will stabilize at 1.85 and stay there, puts the global population in 2300 at 2.3 billion, which would be a stunning decline by more than three quarters from where population levels are estimated to peak in the second half of the twenty-first century, around 9 billion …”

Unsteady and Too Full

“I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

This post was originally titled Why Guys are in the World and Why Every Girl Should Have One because I had one of those moments today. One of those awful ones where you think, “Oh, this is why it sucks to be single.”

I was walking back to work at nearly three in the afternoon Thursday and had the overwhelming desire to cry. Just. Ball. But the prospect of sitting alone in my office, sobbing, was almost more miserable than the prospect that made me want to cry in the first place. And I wondered, “What is it that normal girls do in a situation like this?” Generally, in the cases I’ve witnessed, they call their husband, or their boyfriend, or their pair swimming partner, or whomever functions as the significant other in their life (and therefore has the duty of dealing with tears). That is: a guy.

It was also a guy who’d made me want to cry. A large, amiable, accented one who drove the tow truck that had delivered my car (MY car!) to my parent’s house shortly before. I’d ridden up front with him and I tried to explain exactly what had happened (as best I could) using terms like “mumbo-jumbo,” and “clickety-clank.” Which he interpreted to mean something very dire and as we deposited the late great Plain Vanilla into the driveway, he said:

“That’s a real shame,” looking ever so much like he meant it. “That’s a pretty nice car.”

And THAT is what made me want to cry, because I could bear it if I could think, “Hey, it was a junker anyway.” But there it was, clear as the towman said: It was a pretty nice car.

Was. Now it’s a pretty nice large metal lawn ornament.

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