Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Yo-Yo Hope

I'm tired. I ache. I'm weary. Nothing will ever change.

I'm hopeful! I'm confident in my Lord! I see victory with the eyes of faith!

How often do I bounce between one extreme and the other? Some days I feel completely at the mercy of my volatile feelings. One day praising, the next day despairing. How am I supposed to handle my feelings and my faith?

Recently, I was urged to watch the movie "Facing the Giants." My mom's friend sent it to her, and my mom (very eagerly) suggested that I watch it. (Do you love it, Mom? Do you really love it? :) )

The movie was a typical come-from-behind, against-all-odds football movie. The message was: With faith, you can achieve the impossible. It was well done and heartwarming. I was rooting for the characters and had tears in my eyes more than once. What made the movie even more spectacular was that it was made by a church full of volunteers, not professionals. The quality of the movie showed that that church had achieved their own miracle with God by creating such a great faith-based feature film that was shown in theaters.

There was something about the movie that bothered me though. I couldn't figure it out the whole time I was watching it, and then suddenly, when I was watching the special feature, it hit me. Each person in the church was talking a little about their involvement in the film, how excited they were about God moving, and how they personally were impacted during the shooting. Though almost every experience was a good one, there was an actor in the film who had tragedy in his own life following the completion of the project. He lost his wife to lupus.

As the tears streamed down this man's face, claiming his wife had amazing faith as her body deteriorated, it was obvious how much pain he was in, yet how strong his own faith in Christ was. He loved the Lord, and though his wife was taken before her 30th birthday, leaving behind 4 young children, he still praised God.

That testimony made a deep impression on me, and was the hammer that hit the nail on the head of my inner conflict. What had bothered me about the movie was that, unlike real life sometimes, everything worked out perfectly in the end. It portrayed faith in God as a magic bullet for the impossible problems of this world-- namely winning unwinnable football games, overcoming infertility, getting a new car, getting a raise, having people's bad opinion of you improve... etc.

Now, having been on the receiving end of God's magnificent and overflowing generosity for most of my life, I was tempted to believe this was true. After all, in the past I've had struggles that literally were impossible to overcome, but after praying, doors opened for me in amazing ways. I literally got through college that way when I was disabled with chemical sensitivity, and I can recall many school assignments that received much needed divine intervention. :) The touch of God's hand of blessing always seemed to intervene immediately whenever I asked in prayer.

But these past few years, I've experienced a whole new side of Christian faith-- the faith of praying for, but not receiving-- the faith of pain that does not end, it just gets worse-- the faith that continues on hoping in desperate need, yet with no miracles day after day. Has God become stubborn, or stopped listening to my prayers? No. God never changes and delights in answering my prayers. So what is the problem right now?

This is not a pleasant kind of faith, and honestly, I don't really like this part of Christianity too much, but I'm in with Christ for better or worse, so I'm trying to learn how to integrate this into my once neatly boxed and gift-wrapped beliefs.

This pain with no fix has really put a crimp into my walk with God that has forced me to sit down and iron out: "What now?" What happens when God doesn't take away the storm? What happens when he leaves you in it, and not just for days or months, but for years? What happens when you don't think you can go on, and he says, "Go on." anyway?

That man in the film who lost his wife was the most comforting part about the entire DVD for me because what he did was confirm that the worst CAN and DOES sometimes happen to Christians. Christ came into THIS world, not a fantasy world where everything works out all the time. Christ himself was persecuted, abandoned and betrayed by those he loved, felt abandoned by God, suffered, didn't want to take the suffering he had to endure... His human struggles mirror our own if we look closely enough. And though he intervened and healed so many others on earth, he didn't do a thing to change his own circumstances. Instead, "He entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1Peter 2:23)

Why is this testimony of loss comforting? Many years ago, in my safe bubble of suburban bliss, that man's story of loss would have made me cringe and want to fast forward. I wouldn't have wanted to consider that something like that would even be allowed to happen, because if it could happen to him, something like that could eventually happen to me. My faith wasn't built for that. But now that it is happening-- now that I am facing loss, and persecution, and abandonment-- to know that Christ came and endured, and conquered these things-- that gives me hope. It's not a hope that my circumstances will change, but a hope that I can endure my circumstances whatever they are. This hope makes my faith more complete. I'm now not worried about avoiding tragedy or skirting the issues of suffering. Those things aren't lurking out there anymore, like monsters in the closet who could pounce at any moment. They are already upon me, and Christ is becoming my sufficiency through it. He is tough enough to take my tears and the punching of my little helpless fists into the air and my angry protests, and he can still be God and still love me through this.

I think what I'm seeing is the immensity of God and how I thought I was looking at him before, but what I was actually seeing was just the reflection of the corner of his sandal. My eyes are drawing up to see a bigger faith in a bigger God-- the same loving God that allowed his dear friend and cousin John the Baptist to be jailed and beheaded, but chose to raise Lazarus from the grave. My question to him continues to be-- which one am I? The John or the Lazarus? Will I see my miracle on this earth? Or will I have to wait for heaven?

How do I prepare my heart for the possibility of ultimate earthly loss while simultaneously continuing to believe with my whole heart for my miraculous earthly deliverance? It's sky-high hope with no safety net for the long possible fall.

I strive for being honest here while still sharing the amazing hope of Christ that lives in me. To be any less would be a disservice to anyone reading. I don't have all the answers, and I don't always feel the "right" things. When I see feelings of doubt and uncertainty and normal human emotion in people, it makes it so much easier for me to relate and to appreciate someone's faith. It means they have wrestled with the inconsistencies and injustices of this earth, and, with their minds firmly aware of all the evil that is around us, can say confidently, "I choose Christ, and out of all this suffering on earth, I know he will make something better than I could have ever imagined."

Out of ashes, he can bring beauty. Out of my pain, God can bring his Son glory.

This is a small part of the song "Voice of Truth" by Casting Crowns, which God graciously reminded me of today-- echoing the message from the movie "Facing the Giants."

Oh, what I would do to have
the kind of strength it takes
To stand before a giant
with just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
shaking in their armor
Wishing they'd have had the strength to stand
But the giant's calling out my name and he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me time and time again
"Boy you'll never win,
you'll never win."

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
the voice of truth says "do not be afraid!"
and the voice of truth says "this is for my glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

1 comment:

Melanie said...

The most inspiring thing I've read in a very long time. Thank you for sharing it - you have taken me a step further in keeping my faith during my own storm!