Tag Archives: despair

45. HOPE

43-stork

Our third fortnight has been spent looking at using hope as a filter for our contemplative seeing. This can feel like a bit of a contradiction for Christians, since our greatest hope, as Paul tells us, is in things unseen. Likewise we find that the pervasiveness and strength of our hope often has its seed in the things that ought to make us despair. For me, this was powerfully illustrated when doing a clear-out yesterday. I found my mother’s wedding headband, and a Christening cake stork decoration. I had obviously been saving both to be used in my own life.

Getting married and having kids were always two of my biggest goals in life, and neither turned out how I had hoped, or at least, not to begin with. After a devastating divorce, I am now remarried to a kind man, who would never treat me the way my first husband did. I never did have my own children, but have been gifted a lovely stepson, and the ability and time to look upon people in my life with a maternal heart. I also appear to be birthing rather a lot of books and pieces of writing, as well as art. This may not be what I thought the stork would bring me, but in lots of ways it makes a great deal more sense, given my chronic condition and disability.

So now, even though finding the stork initially made me a little sad (when once, I am not going to lie to you, it would have been gut-wrenchingly painful)  I was quickly able to look on it with a smile, and with the belief that I have been richly blessed, just in a different way than I had hoped. So broken hopes do not always end in despair, especially when given to God, they become a new thing. And this death and resurrection we can see all around us, when we learn to look with the eyes of hope.

The next way of seeing we shall be exploring, is related to hope, and will be about seeing potential.

 

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

 

43. Patronus (hope)

patronus

I was despairing of a number of things in prayer yesterday, and before I’d sat up I found God asking how I’d feel if he came and sat next to me dressed as a Dementor from J.K.Rowling’s wonderful books. I knew he was both coming alongside me in my despair, and good-naturedly ribbing me at the same time. God cannot look like despair, and always encourages us to hope. But he knew I didn’t feel that way.

Yet when I did sit up, I saw a shape in the light shining through the curtains that reminded me of a stag patronus, and it made me smile. My contemplative heart is still able to see with the eyes of hope, even when my mind and emotions struggle to do so.

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

Veil of Tears 98: Disappointed

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They are distressed, because they had been confident; they arrive there, only to be disappointed.” Job 6:20 NIV

When we get to our destination, and after all those hours travelling, that tearing of hair and yelling at the kids, having spent weeks washing and sorting the right laundry, waiting around in airports, and we find the hotel is infested with cockroaches, we are disappointed by circumstances.

When we put our all into something, maybe our heart into writing a poem, and no-one notices, worse, someone gives us harsh criticism, or we put our best efforts into a friendship and the friend ditches us at the first sign of someone who is better connected, we are disappointed by people.

When our dreams are tied up in frazzled nothing days where there is no time and we can’t get motivated, or the procrastination or our own self-doubts stop us from even thinking about beginning, then we are disappointed in ourselves.

And when our prayers seem to go unanswered and yet more difficulties come, and there is only silence where we were hoping for loving words and affirmation, then we can also find ourselves disappointed in God.

Hopes and dreams are wonderful things, but they are also deeply painful, concealing as they do, great pits of despair and disappointment which we fall into time and time again, the golden boughs above us laid as if purposely criss-crossed above the top of the hole, luring us into expectation and letting us fall flat on our faces. Life really can feel like that a lot of the time.

But the Lord does not give us hopes in order to cause us to fall into despair, and he does not give us dreams in order to have them break our hearts when they arrive in a different form to the one we imagined. Our God is a God of “endurance and encouragement” (Romans 15:5) and though often he works through miracles, we see over and over again in the Scriptures and in our lives, that he works far more frequently through the process of blessings. A growth and a blossoming, with all in its rightful place and season.

If the Lord gives us silence, or a no, then that is in some unfathomable way, what we need right now. It is sometimes, of course, that our own emotional pain is so loud we cannot hear over it, or through it, but where the silence is God’s, it is sent gently and with love. Perhaps it is an opportunity to exercise faith and patience, or an invitation to simply sit and learn to listen in a different way. Maybe it is a direction in itself to see the Lord in other things, to experience him in his creation, through other people, in our own actions and self-love, in liturgy, in any number of different ways rather than in the ways to which we have become accustomed and which are now, not enough on their own. The Lord is always wanting his relationship with us to become deeper, and wider, greater, more and more full, and more centred around his Trinitarian personhood. There are many times in our spiritual lives where a painful epiphany needs to move that forward. At such times, disappointment can be a catalyst, like a stick of dynamite that shifts some rubble and allows us to enter a new place, a new level of intimacy, a new room, perhaps of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. We are downcast, disheartened, and so we move deeper into God, into that one necessity, that one being who is love, and who will, at the end of the journey, never ever disappoint us.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

75: Suicidal (Trigger Warning)

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When Ahithophel realized that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey, went to his hometown, set his affairs in order, and hanged himself. He died there and was buried in the family tomb.” 2 Samuel 17:23 NLT

I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.” Job 7:16 NLT

There are few actual suicides mentioned in the Bible, Judas Iscariot’s probably being the most well-known, and even that differing between gospel accounts. But there are a lot of times where people talk about wanting to die, as Job does here after his description of his horrible suffering that we looked at part of yesterday.

There is a huge difference of course between feeling like you want to die and actually wanting to kill yourself. The first is a very common experience, for we all have times where we just don’t see the point of carrying on, or we think everyone (including ourselves) would have been better off if we’d never been born. The former comes largely out of great suffering and an acknowledging of pity for oneself. The second is what happens when we not only lose our hope entirely, but also cross over a threshold of emotional and mental distress that makes life unbearable and death the only way we can see of ending the pain.

Because this is such a hugely difficult subject I shall devote tomorrow to it as well, I think with more on my personal experience. Having been in both places thankfully without carrying it through, and having been brought back again from the edge by love and hope, I can perhaps say one or two helpful things. Of course many times it is tragedy or loss that brings us to this point, but I think that the main things that drives us to a place of actually wanting to take our own lives are a complete absence of hope and a sense of failure and shame.

In a lot of societies, it has been considered a less shameful act to “fall on your sword” when you are dishonoured, than to continue, and this seems to be the case with Ahithophel above. But there is nothing honourable about taking any life. I feel that if we came together as a society that did not engender so much shame, that talked openly about failures and how they can teach us, and if we taught that hope can be reborn from the most forlorn looking embers, then suicides would decrease. We often hear the quote about treating both success and failure the same as the imposters they are, but this is not the message that is constantly whirling about us in the media and the ethos of capitalism and the supposed meritocracies of the west.

And yet, there are very few stories of great success that did not first pass through great failures. Many great entrepreneurs had to climb out of poverty and bankruptcy, often more than once, as we already discussed. Likewise, faith needs to pass first through the dark night of the soul (again often more than once) before it becomes great. Perhaps if we embraced the understanding that failures, wounds and heartbreaks cannot only be overcome in time (even if they never completely heal), but can also teach us a great deal along the way, we might become a healthier, happier society, and be less devastated and ashamed when terrible things happen or perceived failures come.

And if we were treated with more compassion, understanding and above all, patience, when at our lowest ebbs, there would be more chance of love and hope finding a way through to redeem our shattered lives when we feel they are no longer worth living. Our own dear saviour, after all, thought his wounds worth retaining in his resurrected body.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

If you are feeling suicidal or just finding it all too much, please do ring the Samaritans in the UK on their free to call number: 116 123   They are fantastic listeners and there for you if you are having a tough time. You can also email or write, check out their website here http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

33: Hopeless

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Yes, the day of the LORD will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope.” Amos 5:20 NLT

Sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it? And not like the God of love we know – but like any verse grabbed out of context, this description of the day of the Lord is misleading on its own. At this point the Lord is speaking through his prophet Amos, trying (as always) to get the people of Israel to turn back to him and be true, genuine and faithful. They might talk about wanting the Lord to come and be with them, but because of their insincerity and disloyalty this would be hopeless, because he would have to judge them, and so that circumstance is described before our verse above: “In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion—

only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house—

and he’s bitten by a snake.” Amos 5:19

These would be happenings that Alanis Morissette might have sung about in her song Ironic, where she gleefully (and perhaps ironically) confuses misfortune with irony. Here the Israelites too are in a muddle, but about who God is and what he and they want. They say they want him around, but try to placate him with false praise. The Lord is desperate to save them and give them the hope that they are running from. As well as the refrain “come back to me and live!” in this chapter, the last verse describes what God wants from his people instead of worship and sacrifices that are only for show (partnering the perhaps better known Isaiah 58) “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living”. Amos 5: 24 NLT

I find it physically hard to type the word “hopeless.” I didn’t used to. I was sure I was hopeless and so it flowed easily, off the fingers and off the tongue. Since I started praying regularly, every time I try to type the word, it comes out as hopeful, unless I am really concentrating. I find this encouraging, because I am not naturally a hopeful person, and hope (!) that it is revealing something of the unquenchable optimism of the Holy Spirit that dwells within me.

But if that is my inner truth, it doesn’t always feel like that. Life is hard and relentlessly so, at least for my family it seems, and holding onto hope in the day to day grind is often too hard an ask. And yet, somehow it remains, like a hidden mystery, deep down, a seed in the dark that refuses to die. It doesn’t float, that’s for sure, and it is not a light, airy ethereal thing, hope. At least not to me. Hope is a heavy thing, an anchor that holds fast in the deep mud underneath everything. It is strong and it is immoveable, unlike my own sometimes feeble faith. Hope keeps me going because it underpins all things. It is the hand I can reach out for in the dark of night and the flame that burns right at the centre of a bright furnace. It can be relied upon, along with love, to hold fast and never give up.

Being hopeless looks a lot less like the weariness and despair that we feel when times are hard than we think. Instead It is clear that we are only really without hope when we go our own way and choose wickedness and falsity over the genuine relationship offered by the Lord of all Hopefulness.

 

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile

28: Feeling Sold Out

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You sold your people for a pittance,

gaining nothing from their sale.” Psalm 44:12

Yesterday we talked about us giving up on false gods, today our scripture is about how it feels when the Living God seems to have given up on us. The psalmist, as is so often the case, goes back and forth from speaking about the Lord’s great love and faithfulness to the awful things that have and are happening to his people, seemingly at God’s hand. Imagine if we sang such words in church about the tragedies that are part of life today! I kind of wish that we did, because although it might not feel theologically correct, it would be an honest heart cry about how harsh life sometimes feels.

Slavery was a huge part of Old Testament life and a captured city or state could expect to have nearly all its inhabitants carted off into a life of slavery or hard labour. Slaves were part of the spoils of war and people were openly sold, as was still the case in Jesus’ time. Slavery still exists of course, though it tends to fly under the radar of western legality where it is no longer acceptable. Evil usually finds a way to perpetuate its most profitable trades. But this verse tells us that God himself sold his people into slavery, and that he did so without even ascribing them any worth. This is no empty accusation, but a deep and heartbroken lament.

This Psalm could have been penned by Job himself, echoing as it does the cry for justice and the innocence of the ones who feel accused. What can we say? There are times in the history of each one of us, as well as in the history of an entire people, when it seems as though God has abandoned us. Let’s be honest, since truth is a powerful prayer. There are times when we feel that God counts us nothing, and would sell us for a trifle. But this is only how it seems.

We can admit too though, if we have the courage to do so, that how something seems and feels can actually matter quite a lot. And we can ask God into the pain we are experiencing at the very same time as we wonder if he has brought this upon us. We can cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as we suffer, and it is not heresy. It is not wickedness. We are allowed to feel pain and to feel abandoned and to question our God. He is so mighty and gracious that he does not hold this against us, but encourages us to speak our hearts, to call out to him.

As Christians we know too, that he has lived out the very same human awfulness and is somehow, mysteriously, living out our suffering with us, even as we cry out for his help. Perhaps at a deep level there is a symbiotic connection of empathy going on at these times, where we are sharing in his suffering, and he in ours. His love becomes the last drop of hope we clench our fists around, and we know even as we feel ourselves fall, that it is somehow all we need, and wholeness is found in the emptiest of places.

“We are brought down to the dust;

our bodies cling to the ground.

Rise up and help us;

rescue us because of your unfailing love.”   End of Psalm 44:25-26

 

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

1: Ends of the Earth

1 Ends of the earth bmcmath MF

“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,

I call as my heart grows faint;

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

Psalm 61:1-2 NIV

 

When God seems distant, it can feel as though we have been removed to the ends of the earth. If we imagine ourselves far away from him, separated by fear or danger, or difficult circumstances, we can feel so far from home that it seems we are fading away.

Many times this is related in the Bible as experienced by people you wouldn’t imagine ever felt far from God. Elijah wishes he were dead, Mary and Martha want to know why their God didn’t show up in time, Jacob wrestles with an angel, here King David tells it like it is, and Jonah is so stubborn he doesn’t cry out in prayer until he’s actually drowning. Even Jesus, on the cross, calls out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

All of these instances we will come back to, for it has been impressed upon me that our journey this year is about exploring those difficult, tearful places. Today I just want us to be encouraged that in feeling that we are as far away from God as we can possibly be, we are not alone, we are not the first ones to travel these distant-seeming shores, and also, we are closer to him in these moments than we might imagine. For our God hears the cry of the faint heart, and like the Prodigal Son, it is when our anguish at being away from him is the greatest, when it doesn’t make sense, when the brokenness takes us over, that we may find ourselves nearer the truth, and our feet led and empowered to run home.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

photo from morguefile.com

146: Cistern

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Here lie the dead, the broken bones of former prophets, those heads so full of passionate words now skulls beneath my feet, where my own skin is crawling and taut, treading as gently, as reverently, as I can in the dark. Here is mud and far worse, knee deep and stinking, the refuse of the city tossed in daily. My cell is by royal command, no-one dares speak to me as they hurry past, hoods pulled tight across mouth and nose.

For this at least I am grateful, to be left alone with my thoughts, nothing impeding my soul-cry to the God who put me here. This is the reward for obeying the fire in your throat, you see. And perhaps my God-servant friend will come and rescue me, or perhaps I will die here and join my kin, sinking down into thirsty delirium: the irony of a parched prophet in a dry watering hole. But wait, here are footsteps of my gentle Ebed-Melech, and God has even remembered the soreness under my arms, and living water will again flow here in this place.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015