“How do you keep hope alive these days?” the questioner asked. “It looks to me like everything is going to hell in a handbasket.”
The question sounded like a challenge. It wasn’t friendly curiosity, and it was full of cynicism. I felt like I was on trial. I couldn’t decide if she was shaming me or judging me, but it felt like it could be both.
I started to answer, but then she said, “I’m sure you don’t get ruffled, so don’t even bother to explain. I just don’t have your faith….or whatever it is you say you have.”
Good grief. A pack of presumptions laid on me before I could respond to either one!
I thought about that question yesterday morning when I was suddenly startled. I don’t mean that I was surprised or caught off-guard. I am talking about one of those sudden, out-of-the-blue happenings that leaves you short of breath and with your heart racing. In other words, the situation scared me to death.
Granted, it was over almost before I knew what was happening, and indeed, nothing was broken and no one was injured, except me, that is. I couldn’t catch my breath for a few seconds, and when I did, I began to cry — uncontrollably, the ugly cry, the shaking all over cry. And for several minutes, I cried like a baby. I think I could say that I was weeping — copiously. It was serious crying — from my gut.
As I began to calm myself, two thoughts raced to the front of my mind at the same time. I thought about how my inquisitor would judge me now. I guess she could have assumed that I was falling apart at the seams. If she had assumed that, she would have been wrong.
The second thought contained a picture of my dad in a hospital bed, following a stroke. Upon reading all of the possible things that might happen to him as he was undergoing a necessary procedure — as in another stroke, paralysis, death — he burst into tears. Mistakenly, the attending nurse chided him by saying, as if she was talking to a four-year-old, “Now, Dr. Ball, where’s your faith?” I jumped to attention, and so did my mother and sister. Was that a shaming tone we heard?
I’ll never forget how my dad — a strong friend of God, a man of long-standing faith, a retired 40-year pastor of a local church — took the pen from her hand, and signed the form and looked up at this stranger/nurse and said, “It will hold. It will hold.” He couldn’t see the form in that moment, but his voice was the strong voice I knew so well.
She had messed with the wrong person. If she thought that shaming him for a lack of faith was going to challenge my dad, she didn’t know the half of anything about him. His faith had been forged on the hot anvils of life for his entire life. He might not be able to see or walk in that moment, and his face was pulled over to one side, but his faith was strong. he may have been frightened about the test and about his life, but he was no ivory-tower preacher-man; he had walked the earth with both feet all of his life, standing strong, and he walked his talk through hard times and struggles all of his life — through the Depression on. He had had enough of the good times to know the joys of ministry, but he had had his heart broken, too. Seasoned ministers get the whole enchilada, and for those with an open mind and an open heart, as well as a willing spirit, both the good times and the hard times can deepen their faith.
The struggles can make a pastor bitter, but my dad’s struggles made him better — better at everying.
Here’s what has happened during the last 5 weeks of this pandemic. Martus and I have lost 4 longtime, close friends. I had just gotten off the phone with a relative who shared with me her agony that her daughter, our niece, was non-responsive and near death. Another phone call revealed that another precious relative has dementia. I could go on, but it’s too depressing. There’s more. Lots more.
Throughout all of these days, these losses have happened in the context of the 134 days of social isolation, the increasing numbers of cases and deaths very day, and the darkness of our political climate. All of this loss has been handled by my husband and me with our customary resilience, strength and confidence that “our faith — or our anchor — will hold.”
But yesterday….startled, frightened suddenly, the dam broke. I had been calm and composed for everyone else throughout these days, but suddenly, my grief broke through and as I cried, I knew that I was crying for my friends I had lost, the condition of the world and my fears and tremblings about what is going on around me. If it is true that “tears are the body’s way of praying”, I was praying hard.
Keeping hope alive doesn’t mean that you can’t or don’t cry. It doesn’t mean you don’t grieve, for crying out loud, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t sometimes rail against circumstances, get mad at the people who hurt you or cause others harm. Keeping hope alive doesn’t mean that you are a passive observer of the world, but an active participant in the world, laughing with those who laugh and mourning with those who mourn. And sometimes you have to mourn because you, too, are human and you grieve and cry when the world is too much with you.
As I began to calm down, another moment came to my mind. Seven years after my dad had his first stroke, he lay in the floor of his bedroom after what was to be his final stroke. My brother-in-law knelt down on the floor beside him and gently asked, “Poppy, are you OK? What can I get for you?”
True to form, my dad said, “Oh, I’ll be OK. Just give me a minute and I’ll be up and about.”
Ever the optimist, my dad’s last words before he died were to me, because I was the last one to arrive at his bedside. “I love you, Jeanie. I love you, Jeanie. I love you….I love….” and the next day he was gone.
Keeping hope alive is not some other-worldly, rose-colored wishful thinking. It comes from within, and I believe that hope is the very presence of God within us, urging us forward, helping us to get up and take the next step indicated. And hope comes from the Source of life itself, of love itself.
Our job is to fan the flames of that everlasting love by opening our minds and hearts to the Presence of the Source….within us and all around us…and between us, offered as a gift to each other. God grants us the grace of hope….our job is to practice resurrection day by day.
When you are crying, I want to stand with you and give you presence.
When I am crying, please stand with me.
We are all walking each other home, and sometimes the path is rocky.
Grace to you –
(Next blog post: Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.)