Faith: When all hope seems lost (it's not)
Over the weekend I was feeling particularly under the weather, my head stuffed with so much gunk it seeped and oozed and dried up all around my reddened nose, like metaphor to the clutter in my mind (too much to do and not enough time... woe-is-me seepage onto the world!).
So I took myself off to sit in the sun and absorb some Vitamin D while picking the skin from a mandarin plucked straight from a tree.
As I looked up and took in the spectacular view from my deckchair, no one about the place to disturb my bliss, the clear blue sky and impressively tall trees gave me perspective as well as renewed energy. I was alright. 'It is lovely to just be,' I thought, rather indulgently, winking at God. Enveloped by the sun's rays and caressed by the gentle rustling of the trees, I could have stayed there all afternoon.
I did not, and instead took myself to a community screening of a film, strolling the way there looking up at paragliders flying about like giant kites in the air. They must feel so free, thought I. And I was flying solo in my own way; doing as I felt I wanted to do on this particular day for my wellbeing.
A tinge of guilt over sharing my germs with all the little old ladies at the movie matinee aside (I sat very far away, and refrained from coughing, sucking at a packet of Eucalyptus lollies), I had a wonderful time.
But the following evening I was awakened from my contented state of self. I was told about a young girl who had tried to take her life prior to commencing her HSC trials. To think that that teenage girl might miss out on the blue skies and swaying of trees because she is all too consumed by the pressure to perform in these academic tests? My heart sank with despair. And then I got a little bit angry.
After all, it is not what we do or how well we do it that is who we are. It is about our hearts. She could be a twinkling little star without so much as a pass.
Of course, insofar as despairing thoughts that lead to drastic actions go, this event could be the tipping point in a life story that had gone remiss; a blip in the road that seemed an insurmountable obstacle in the face of any number of things. A call for attention from what my girl-hero Anne Shirley called "the depths of despair" that had been a long time coming.
We'd be wise to be mindful of the particularities of any circumstance in which one finds oneself contemplating ending life. A stubbed toe, for all one knows, or a lack of a simple smile from a passer-by, could be the nail, or else teen hormones and the hopeless state of the world may have their role to play.
But deep beneath the actions, the moods, the interplay of circumstances, the inner turmoil captured so poignantly by Laura Moore in her award-winning self-portrait, is something in need of addressing: a view of self, of life, of the world gone askew.
If a house is divided amongst itself it will fall – that is a basic Biblical principle, articulated by Jesus in Matthew 25, and it's most often used to teach on nations, the family, the church, institutions. US President Abraham Lincoln once used it in a speech, explaining, "I believe this government can not endure permanently half slave and half free."
A person divided against themselves – torn in every sort of way, by false expectations, by well-intentioned or ill-intentioned others, by media, by money, by trying to serve two Gods (like a job and family) – is in a similarly disconcerting state. Sometimes the conflict gets too much to take and we lose our way.
One needs a safe and solid place from which to negotiate this dilemma, as you cannot escape it entirely. There are decisions to be made. You may need to escape. In this sense, the Bible provides a thorough rationale and context, but can also be confusing: we read too much of ourselves into its passages, rather than looking at the grand context (fallen man, God's wrath, Jesus' atoning sacrifice).
Taking time out to be in peaceful communion with God is necessary for gathering yourself and your thoughts and feeling at one with Him. But you also need people – connection.
In a blog post on connectedness, David Wilson of Sophia Think Tank writes: "Connectedness within oneself is an important part of the Bible’s teaching. The Apostle Paul says that the disconnected self is a wretched state, one from which we need to be rescued. Modern psychology would heartily agree. And of course, connectedness between humans and God is essential for wellbeing."
If you cannot feel wholly yourself, untroubled by the bits of you that make you you, and confident that the snares that catch on your favourite jumper will eventually break away as you crawl out of the rabbit hole toward the light, then you might very well succumb to actions that you will some day live to regret (regrets? Yeah, I've got a few), or not live at all, whether in a physical or metaphorical sense.
On Sunday morning, my husband preached on laying good, solid foundations. The sort of foundations that remain even though everything else is swept away by a flood or a raging storm; a bad examination result or careless remark or unexpected circumstance. The basic tenet: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." And this today, yesterday, tomorrow. For you, for me, for everybody.
Best to get the foundations right. With those set in stone, trusting not in the fallible self but the infinite Christ, we are better able to address both ourselves and others in a life-building way. An uplifting comment. A helpful act. A smile that is genuine. We should all endeavour to leave others, and the world, in a better state than we found them, but it's hard to do if we are distracted by our own shortcomings, inadequacies, unfulfilled desires, mistakes.
These are the snot of life and our humanity, if you like, and they keep us from truly taking flight.
What an awful shame to think the young girl we speak of might have missed Christmas, her family, the thoroughly exciting but complicated and messy process of growing up, or the vision of a weightless dandelion seed wistfully sailing in the breeze carrying a dream. And what would the world – her family, her community, her school – miss if this girl did not overcome this present situation and go on to really become fully herself, unhindered by this unfortunate turn of events?
In his book, Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray writes: "Instruction and suggestion and help and training in the different departments of the work may indeed be needed; all that has value. But in the long run, the greatest essential is to have the full life in Christ – in other words, to have Christ in us, working through us. I know how much there is to disturb us, or to cause anxious questionings. But the Master has such a blessing for every one of us and such perfect peace and rest. He has such joy and strength if only we can come into, and be kept in, the right attitude toward him."
We simply cannot expect everything in life to go swimmingly perfect – if nothing, the London Olympics has taught us that. But we can expect that if Christ is kept at the centre, whatever we choose to do, whether good or bad in outcome, will draw us closer to him, either in praise (why, thank you for what you did!) or in despair (please help me – show me where I'm going wrong). All in all, at least we will have learnt a valuable lesson (hopefully with no-one else getting harmed in the process).
On Sunday night, my local community gathered together to send off and celebrate a couple who are embarking on a new season in their life. He, a prominent man in the community, spoke of his bout of depression, which he said earned him empathy for others. She spoke of the life of a teacher seeing students through from Grade One and on, which had given her great pleasure. Different journeys taken together – all for the learning. What an adventure awaits them.
I hope our young friend recovers enough to see life as an adventure, too.
Girl With a Satchel
P.S. Here is a GWAS playlist for anyone feeling a bit lost, a bit alone, a bit broken of heart. A bit naff, but, whatever...
Alabaster Box, "There's Hope"
Royal Tailor, "Hold Me Together"
Fatis Valour, "These Confusions"
Leonardo's Bride, "Even When I'm Sleeping"
Emeli Sande, "Next to Me"
Ed Sheerhan, "Lego House"
Queen Latifah, "Fix me Jesus" (Joyful Noise soundtrack)
Tasmin Archer, "Sleeping Satellite"
Shawn McDonald, "All I Need"
Hillsong United, "The Stand"
Keke Palmer, "Man in the Mirror"
Mandy Moore, "Only Hope"