Maurice woke up from yet another night of nightmares, his pillow once again soaked with sweat as he waited for the images to fade into dim memory. Checking the time, it was only 7:40 a.m. and once again, there were no messages for him. So once again, he laid in bed and let the feeling of helplessness and rejection wash over him. He liked to give it full reign for about a half hour before he pulled together the will to once again face another day.
With something approximating optimism, he got dressed. He couldn’t muster the energy to go through the complete ritual of shaving and showering, because in his heart when he believed no one wanted him, he didn’t bother. But he had his plan and he planned on working it. Searching for a job meant treating the act itself like a job. So he otherwise prepared himself, went through the rest of his getting-ready-for-work ritual and prepared to face his day.
Most days it was hard enough pulling himself out of bed rather than giving into the depression which always threatened to suck him into its waiting embrace. The family’s anxiety level rose, conflating with his own. The thing about anxiety was the toxic cloud it created, leaking into the fabric of everyday life like a creeping entropy. So each morning begins by answering the questions “what’s the point?” and “where is the hope?”
I lost my job in December of 2009. I’ve done odd jobs here and there from freelance writing to substitute teaching, but I haven’t had anything steady in over two years. Prolonged unemployment can do strange things to your sense of self-worth. You start listening to all of the voices that run around in the back of your head about how no one wants you or you’re not good for anything. After a while you have to come up with good reasons to even get up because you begin to lose hope. Hope is one of those ephemeral things, intertwined with faith and just as fragile. Some days it flares like the sun and others I have to turn off all the lights so that I can catch a glimpse of the embers. So each day I get to remind myself of all of the reasons I have to keep getting up:
-A beautiful wife who even after eleven years loves me better than I do myself.
-Two knucklehead boys who seem to have their own R&D department committed to finding new ways to get into mischief, who also depend on me.
-Some of the best friends a man could ask for.
-And a continued sense of hope.
Sometimes the dark circumstances are the exact times that God uses to transform us. We feel that God is not at work, that He has abandoned us, and it is the belief that all of our cries are going unanswered that causes us the greatest pain. We need encouragement to endure this time. Look, true faith is not without hardships, nor is it all that pragmatic. So when problems arise, there are no pat answers. There are no steps. It sucks. We have to hold on and endure it. These times of crisis will either break us and cause us to abandon God or break us down and draw us nearer to Him.
A lot of times we place our love and faith in the wrong things (or good things that aren’t the best things), confusing our spiritual ideas with some distorted ideas of God. Sometimes it takes a loss of control to remind us, to re-shape us. Hopefully we will figure out what’s really important about our faith and walk, and be led to deeper faith.
The key is to be vulnerable, but still believe in my darkest moments of unbelief. I need to remember to go before God without pretending. Be broken, empty, terrified. Be honest with my pain, rather than put it behind me. Relief comes through honest dialogue. The more doubt expresses itself, the more it is allowed to be exposed, the easier it can be dealt with. Rather than keeping it inside, eating away at me like cancer. God is sitting shiv’ah with us during our dark nights of the soul. Grieving with us. Restoring us. In that we need to have, and can find, hope.
My hope is that God is not through with me yet and that I still have not only gifts but also a job to do. Even without full-time employment, I still have worth and can join in God’s missing to reconcile people to one another and to Him. To continue to make this world a better place. The story we find ourselves in shouldn’t be reduced to we sin and God forgives, but that we’re children of God’s, co-heirs with Jesus, called to a life of joy. We are to make His life our own, transforming us, sometimes through the refining fire of pain, to look like Him, as children come to resemble their parents. My hope is in that story. My hope is in the story of redemption available for each and every one of us. And that in recognizing our mutual need for redemption, we view one another with mercy and a measure of grace.
The story of my faith is a hope that life, with it pains and joys, laughter and tears, matters. Hope that relationships are eternal and reconciliation is possible. Hope that we are significant and matter. Hope that we are known, all of our good, all of our bad, through what we’ve done and for what we could be. Hope that we are loved, as we are for who we are. And all of that give me hope to get up in the morning, face another day, and dream anew of what could be.