I was talking to a friend yesterday about why hope is hard - why it is that it's easier to believe that things won't work out, that they'll always be the same awful mess or the same boring mess or that there will be the same nothingness day after day; why it is that it's easier to believe that people don't change, that they will always betray us, that we will always be let down, that we will never have what we want. Many belief systems have a foundation in some kind of faith that brings hope, and it is that hope part that always seems to be the most difficult part of faith. We can believe in God, we can believe in a universal higher power, we can believe that there is "something out there" that is bigger than we are, but when it comes to trusting in that something in a way that brings us peace and joy, it can feel impossible to do. I've always been a very optimistic person, and I was given a gift of faith when I was born again that is so strong that no matter what happens to knock me off my feet I am able to find my way back to standing strong in faith, but even I go through very dark times emotionally when all I can do cry and ask God for help in getting through. At those times His promise from Isaiah 61 that He will give me a "crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning," seems so far away, and because I can't see how it's possible, I begin to believe that God is just another person who has made empty promises and will let me down.
I was talking to God about this on Friday - I talk with God often and honestly - He knows what I'm thinking anyway, so why pretend that I am perfect? He loves all of us in our imperfections and doesn't need me to put on a good show. When I can be honest with Him, that's the place where I can learn something new. I have been dealing with some very big issues lately in different areas of my life, things that God has promised that haven't happened, and that seem impossible because of other things that have happened. My prayer for the past year in these areas has been "Help me with my unbelief" - the words spoken by a father who desperately wanted healing for his son in Mark 9:24, and each time I pray this something happens to confirm my faith. But on Friday when I said this, the answer came back immediately, "Why is it so hard to believe? Have I ever let you down?" I had to honestly answer that He never had. Even before I was born again, there were times when things seemed hopeless and "something always happened" to turn the situation around so that it worked out. I'd be almost homeless and miraculously I'd find an apartment, I'd lose a job unexpectedly and miraculously get another. I used to always say that the universe was working on my behalf, but now I know that it was God. Since the time I was born again He has made many promises, some that seemed really impossible, and each one has come to pass. So here I was on Friday, being asked the question of whether God had ever let me down, and He hasn't. So why is faith and trust and belief so hard? The only answer that I have is that my experiences in life have often been that people have let me down, that people have made empty promises that they could not keep, and that I have had to learn to not trust or rely on people and to rely only on myself. It is that place of hopelessnes that is a hard place to be. When I think that way I am hard and tough and negative, the way I used to be before I was born again. It is when I can accept that God is there to help and support, sometimes in small and simple ways and sometimes in big supernatural ways, and when I can recognize that He is there and always has been, that is the time when I can allow my own heart to be softer, allow myself to love where it is difficult to love and have compassion for those very people who have let me down and caused me pain.
When I was talking to my friend yesterday, and I said I realized how easy it was to not have faith and hope, he said, "Of course, everyone loves a good pity party!" And he's right. It feels comfortable to sit and cry before God, it feels comfortable to give up and not believe in His promises. It feels comfortable to go back to doing the things I was doing before I learned there was another way. But that is really the hard place. It's like a bed that is worn out and you wake up with a backache every morning, and you're tired because you haven't had enough sleep. God tells us to rest in Him, to let Him help us carry our burdens, and that "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31). That's a promise that God makes, and He keeps His promises. It's much easier to get out of that bed every morning when we are able to look at the new day with the light of hope.
I can't write this today without speaking about the sorrow of Pastor Rick Warren and his family at the loss of their son to suicide. Some experiences of depression and mental and physical illness are much deeper than the troubles and struggles I face. The promises of God are true for all of us, but there are some things that each of us face that make it much harder to continue. My prayers are with Pastor Warren and his family, and with all those who are struggling with challenges that have worn them down to a place of despair. That is the hardest place to be, and I pray that the burdens will be lifted so that they can come into a place of hope.