A little bit of hope

I was in the middle of writing a different post - a fairly banal exposition on identity and the seasons of my life - when I got a text message:

"M (a very very close family friend and extended family member) had a biopsy last week. The doctor called today and said they found cancer cells."

I am not prepared to deal with this.

Right now, my dad is doing his own battle with lung and bone cancer. My mom is strong and resolute, caring for him and holding life together and pressing forward. And if either of them are as scared or sad as I am, they aren't letting it show.

In the wider world, I get dragged down listening to news of escalating violence in Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Palestine, and the refugee crisis at our border, and a new wave of the Ebola virus ravaging Western Africa.

In my own world, I am about to hit busy season as we plan for fall programs. It's a Monday morning and I am facing a week full of baptismal prep meetings with parents, writing confirmation curriculum, convening an adult education committee (and rushing to plan education offerings for fall), rewriting our contemporary worship liturgy, leading worship at three nursing homes, doing a handful of communion visits, proofing bulletins, and working on newsletter articles.

Add to this the fact that I continue to move through good weeks and bad weeks of feeling happy and settled here in our small town life, and feeling sad and lonely and far from family and the frenetic suburban life that I so wanted to escape, but that is yet so familiar. We are still going through the growing pains of owning a home and having a baby and settling into careers.

When I feel squeezed, my instincts are to hunker down and find balance by clinging to those closest to me, especially my family. Except that I'm also trying to live out the "Comfort in, dump out" wisdom of Susan Silk, where you think of your relationships with those in pain in terms of cocentric circles, with the person in pain in the center, and you don't dump inward, you offer comfort, and you seek people further disconnected from the pain than you to absorb your own grief and frustration.

All of this is to say that this second cancer diagnosis in the big picture of our family in the last three months is just too much for me to process, and I'm not quite sure who my "dump out" people are at the moment.

One miconception about pastors is that they have the emotional and spiritual fortitude to feel at peace and in control through all manner of crises, or that it is easy and obvious for them to follow the same sorts of advice, guidance, and comforting words that they give to others.

Let me tell you, it is hard to deal with grief and fear and stress. Doesn't matter if you're a pastor. You still feel it all.

For me, I have to keep telling myself things inside my head that I hope filter down through my heart and soul. Yesterday, I kept hearing the words from Jeremiah 29: "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord, "plans for a future with hope." Today, I keep hearing the words of Job, as put into song in Handel's Messiah: "I know that my redeemer liveth."

That's all I've got at the moment. Clinging to a promise that there is purpose and not just aimlessness. And there is a future. And there is hope. And there is life.

I'll admit - my holy imagination this morning isn't feeling all that imaginative. I can't find it in me to imagine a world on the far side of all of the pain I see around me. I can't find it in me to be the eternal optimist, believing that everything will turn out all right - and it kind of kills me that I can't do that, because I'm the biggest optimist I know.

But I can still hope. I mean, it's hard work. Hope is always hard work. But if faith is about being "sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1), then we have little choice but to buckle down and do the hard work of hope, trusting that even if things don't turn out "all right" in the way that we'd want, we yet have a God who promises us a future. Promises us life. Promises us light even beyond this present darkness or any darkness yet to come.

So I'm not yet able to see the holy in the pain and stress of this day, and I'm far off from being able to spin it into any sort of morality tale or parable or sign of God's grace. But I give you what I can, and that is a word of committment to the hope that is in me, that maybe you, too, will feel permission to cling to hope in your own dark seasons, and feel no pressure to have the right answers, to keep a stiff upper lip, or to pretend that faith should erase your pain, your fear, or your grief.

It's simply enough to put your head down and hold onto whatever little bit of hope you can grasp.

It's more than enough.

It's everything.