Much of my past year has been lived in the tension of grief and hope. I’ve learned something of the healing power of grieving and the place it has in the broader process of hope. Last fall I began describing the process of grieving as a coming to terms with the way things are. As I’ve had space to reflect on my life and process my own story, I’ve come to see the vast distance between how things are and how things ought to be. And this is not really a new thing…
I grew up in a broken home. My parents divorced before I was a year old. My dad remarried when I was only two. I spent my childhood between two homes. I remember describing my life as a volleyball tossed between two courts. All of that shifting left me feeling somewhat homeless. Yet, I knew that this was not how things were supposed to be. I knew that families were supposed to be together; that parents were supposed to be together. I knew, though I often felt homeless, that home existed. Though my life was one way, I knew there was a deeper and better way that life ought to be.
I grew up in a church that was wrought with debate and arguments. From instrumental music to women’s role in church; from the meaning of baptism to the Lord’s Supper to sharing a simple meal; everything seemed to be an argument. Everyone had their book/chapter/verse to prove their point and yet no one seemed concerned by the people who were left out and hurt along the way. Though I grew up in this sort of spiritual environment, I knew that this was not how things were supposed to be. I knew that God was not like this and that church was not supposed to be a place like this. Though my experience was one thing, I knew that there was a deeper and better way that things ought to be.
This past year many of my fears culminated in the separation and dissolution of my own marriage. I felt my dreams and hopes shatter; I read passages about how God’s love is enduring like that of a husband and a wife; and I knew that this was not how things were supposed to be. I knew that love was enduring and that marriage was supposed to be broken only by death. But this was not my story or experience any longer.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, in the hopeful season of Advent, I posted the following to Facebook:
And it is this same sentiment that I bring to this post. Grief and hope are tied together as long as we are living somewhere between the way things are and the way things ought to be.
Outside of my own life and experience, I’ve seen our country this past year reel in the shocking pains of racial injustice (it was just about a year ago that Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, which seemed to be the beginning of a much larger and longer chain of excruciating and unsettling events); I’ve heard stories of fear and shame that many of my LGBT friends have had to carry through their lives; and I know that this is not how things are supposed to be.
All of this grief and pain is why I love the gospel. This past year I have learned that faith is holding onto the hope of how things ought to be even in the midst of the painful and shocking reality of the way things are. The gospel shows one of the only ways of honestly dealing with the way things are and the way things ought to be. In the life of Jesus death becomes eternally married to resurrection and therefore, grief becomes joined with hope. The words of John resonate so deeply in my soul:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
(1 John 3:2-3, ESV)
And so I encourage you to not lose hope. When we live as people who only believe the way things are, then we slowly begin to lose our imagination and our dreams become dull. But when we live as people who only assert the way things ought to be we become disconnected from reality and have no way to enter into the pain of the world. Don’t lose your dreams.
Dreams are funny things: though they are born in the figments of our imagination, they take root in the realities of our lives. Hope asserts that things ought to be a certain way, but it begins to take root in the way things are by the simple choices of our daily lives. May you be one who dreams with divine imagination and hopes with resurrected living.
Even in the midst of my own pain and grief, may I live as though the redemption of the world is coming about. I choose the trust the story of resurrection because is it the only story I know that is large enough to bridge the distance between the way things are and the way things ought to be.
As it was in the beginning,
So it is now,
And shall be forever,
World without end,
Drew, your articles are always well thought out and well written. However, this part here bothers me: “I grew up in a church that was wrought with debate and arguments…..Everyone had their book/chapter/verse to prove their point and yet no one seemed concerned by the people who were left out and hurt along the way.”
I feel compelled to comment on this. Yes, there are differences in opinion when it comes to some of the things you mentioned. And those differences can be difficult and frustrating. No church is perfect, because we are imperfect people. But the same church you mentioned who disagree about some of these things also agree about the even more important things — love of Christ our Savior and love of the brethren for each other. I can’t even begin in words to say the unbelievable amount of love shown to me because of my breathing disability. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a difficulty in our own life to see that love that you didn’t see before. If that is the case, then I thank God for my disability. For God has shown brightly in my life through these people who have been there for me. There are those who have bought groceries for me week after week after week, those who have made repairs around my house both inside and out, those who have brought me to the doctor and to the airport and to parties and to the emergency room when I had a really hard time breathing, those who have brought me meals, those who have prayed with me and for me. When this amount of love is shown not just to me, but to many others in need, we are being the type of people God wants us to be. All our petty differences fade in the bright light of love that is shown by our reaching out and helping each other when we are in need. That is the kind of church you grew up in. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it as much as I am able to see it now.
Matthew 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”
I feel it is my fault you haven’t seen this love more. But it is there and it is real and it is amazing. I didn’t want people to think the church you grew up with was nothing but a bunch of argumentative people. It is much more than that. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Of course the church is filled with imperfect people. And the same people who I heard arguing with one another, I also saw loving one another. They are the people who taught me to love and think deeply about the scriptures. They are the ones who, week after week, showed me the gospel and who gave me a love for the church that persists to this day.
The fact is — they were a community that showed me both the ways things were AND the way things ought to be. And that’s exactly who the church should be.
And while I’m at it, though my family was divorced, it is still my family: the people who raised me and loved me and cared for me as I grew up. You also showed me both how things are and how they ought to be. You, Mom, in particular showed me how to persist in hope. Thank you. And I love you.