We got the call we didn’t want. It seemed to catch us from behind – in the comfortable normalcy of everyday routine. My cousin, with his full head of hair and port still intact, has cancer again.
As my mother stood in the kitchen and delivered the news, I took the words in slow, divorced from emotion. Whatever I expected her to say, it wasn’t that. Only later, in the solitude of a morning drive, frost still evaporating off my windows, would the emotion match the message – tears reluctantly falling and wiped away as soon as I could manage.
It was a weary sadness when the bad news came back. Anger and confusion mixed in as well, but the prevailing emotion was a haggard tiredness – a fresh healed wound broke open anew just when we thought the pain was over.
With the wound open before our eyes, the emotions of the first diagnosis trickled back in. The fear and the sadness and the rush of unanswerable questions all sat in our minds. At the crux of it, we want to know that he will be okay. We want assurance that the story ends well, despite the darkness of the valleys.
We can’t have answers to those questions. And that drives the pain deep.
Life can be so senseless. I can remember receiving a phone call a few years ago, hearing that my roomates’ family had been killed in a crash – a car flying down off the overpass as they rode to celebrate their first-generation college grad. It made no sense. There were no words to pad the blow. At the funeral, I didn’t have any to say. What could be said? What could ease her pain or give her comfort in the midst of the deepest, wracking grief a person can feel? She read a Psalm that day. Braver than I could ever be, she read Psalm 139:13: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Her voice caught when “mother” passed her lips, too deeply grieved to fully say the word.
There are no words for these deep grievances. And I offer none here.
We have all felt pain. Death, cancer, family division. Words from a loved one that cut deep. Family members who walked away from God, and walked away from us, too.
It’s in these painful, disillusioned moments that the word “hope” feels like a bitter pill. Hope seems to mock us – a pure desire stained by a wretched reality. Hope, our greatest encouragement, seems to set us up for failure.
And it can. It does and it has. We know that “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” Proverbs 13:12, ESV. And too many painful things can make us never want to hope at all.
We know, through our collective, painful experiences, that setting our hopes on a certain outcome may let us down. It might even be the ruin of us. Though we struggle to come to terms with it, we’re not promised good earthly outcomes. We suffer at the hands of a cursed earth, and we wordlessly cry for a better world. This is what we know, and what we rave against in our most raw moments: God doesn’t promise us cancer-free lives, death-free families, pain-free marriages.
We also know that we have to have hope.
The Bible speaks of it endlessly, and even the most downtrodden one of us knows we can’t live hopeless lives. So what do we do? Faced with the deepest pain, where do we turn?
I can only say what He says. That our hope has to stand on a solid foundation. Earthly things can’t carry the weight of our hopes. They can’t sustain us.
It is Who we place our hope in that makes the difference. Placing our hope in God is not a platitude. There is a real rest there, which leaves us assured that our hope will not be in vain. Not ultimately. This hope doesn’t diminish the pain or dismiss the deepness of our sorrow. If anything, it validates it. It says – you were made for a redeemed life, and this senseless pain is the deepest reality of sin.
Our God is faithful and constant. Though this life may let us down and leave our hopes deferred, He will not. We won’t always understand this. There may be long stretches of time where we won’t even believe it for the trauma of the pain.
But there is a certainty here that nothing else can give us.
There is, when we can receive it, a sweet cove to rest in, while the wind whips wild and tears our surroundings apart. He remains. He is our rock, our defense, our refuge.
Our hope in God fulfills us, satisfying our deepest longings. This broken time is filled with waiting. This world is cursed and thorn-stricken, and we’re left longing for the day when Jesus will return. When life gets heavy, when it’s confusing, when anger courses through us, it’s okay to mourn. We can sit with our grief. Our Savior sees us. It’s okay to be angry. Angry at the effects of sin and longing so deeply for restoration that all we can offer are white-knuckle prayers. We know He is eager for redemption. He weeps beside us, longing to wipe away our tears and give us eternal life. To fulfill our hope.
We wait, fighting to hope, knowing that in our deepest pain, He is there; in our deepest sorrows, He is with us.