Through my recent posts on this blog, others who are suffering, some more deeply than I, have connected and sent me questions, looking for encouragement in their own struggles. The post below is a response I gave today to a woman with stage four cancer who wrote to ask, “how do you NOT give up?” I hope you, like her, can find something here to encourage you on your unique journey through suffering.
I am humbled that you would ask me your questions. I’ll take a crack at an answer but of course I can’t promise anything. I have observed that the universe arcs towards grace. There is a kind of redemption built into everything, it seems. This doesn’t mean that all wounds and diseases are healed individually, but rather that you are living in a universe that washes, starts again, heals and renews. This is plainly observable by watching seasons come and go, and many other cycles of nature.
With that in mind, ask yourself this question. In general, have you grown in wisdom, insight, grace, and love as you have gotten older? Most people do. This opening up to love and presence and grace is also, I believe, just built in to who we are as people. So the universe is a redemptive place, and you are created to grow more and more at home in it as you increasingly find that you yourself are becoming more loving, gracious, etc.
Often we think we grow because of huge efforts we are making, but I don’t think that’s true at all. In fact, when we get really honest we see how often good things end up happening accidentally after we have made really crappy choices! Though we certainly suffer consequences of our actions regularly, we also find ourselves carried along on this arc of grace, so that we often learn and grow in love even as a result of very foolish things we do.
This is where my hope springs from — the realization that I have been placed in a universe that arcs toward love and redemption, and I see that very same arc in myself. Just as I have grown towards greater love and joy almost in spite of myself, I trust that will continue to happen because that’s the kind of world God made. My hope springs not from the certainty that I will get better, or that the end of my suffering is necessarily near, but from my sense that the place where God put me to live is a deeply good place, despite many very bad things that happen in it. It seems often even most of those things end up becoming opportunities for redemption, where people get second and third chances to start again. Indeed I have many times been the grateful recipient of one of these chances to start again.
If I really believe that the universe is a benevolent place to be, I then easily believe it is because of the benevolence of the one who created it (however he/she/it did so). I believe this being – God – loves us intently, at the core of his person, and that you are already so deeply one with him that there are already ways in which you and God are indistinguishable, just like you share indistinguishable features with your own children. This is to say, your life ALREADY bears evidence of who, and whose, you really are.
I have found that the more I suffer in life, the more it peels away pretense. I become more real, more vulnerable, and I better project to others this immense love I came from and where I will one day head back to! People see it and are drawn to it because it is the source of their lives also.
This is love God showed in Jesus – love that suffers but doesn’t make victims out of others, that is able to rejoice and hold up under suffering not because every individual wound is healed, but because one knows that no matter what happens in this life, we are actually perfectly safe. As my hero, Dallas Willard, writes: you are a divinely created spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe!” You are immortal! I have told my girls all their lives, “you are never going to die. One day you will close your eyes, and you will awake the very next moment in the Kingdom of your Father. On that day, your story BEGINS.”
I hope this doesn’t just seem like gobbledygook. God, to me, must either be believed in this deeply, or not at all.
I encourage you to spend some time reading my blog posts over the last few weeks. I write about when giving up is okay and not okay, about holding on through the really tough stuff, about dips into depression, and why ultimately despair just never makes any sense.
I encourage you to read Psalm 139 as well. This is where you came from. You were created in that love and intention, and not the slightest bit of your suffering is wasted. It is all being worked into this grand scheme of redemption, the broken pieces of our lives and of the world that God is making whole (one) again. Every person faces trials and tests in life, and those moments of our greatest tests become the moments of our greatest triumphs as, in the end, whenever it comes, we stand fast, bravely, even with joy, believing so deeply that the greatest things lie not behind but ahead of us.
So do not judge yourself as you suffer. Love yourself, for you are so deeply loved. Grant yourself the compassion you would grant your best girlfriend if she were in your shoes. As you struggle through your days, continue to see small graces. You’ll see they never disappear. Allow yourself to be afraid, to grieve, to be angry. But also get quiet sometimes and allow deep peace to come. You don’t need to fix or control this. So far, every single day you have been able to do what was needed for that day. There is no reason to suspect any day will come, ever, when you cannot do that, no matter what the day’s agenda brings.
With those thoughts, I am spent. I hope somewhere in there is something useful for you. Of course I am not in your position and can’t pretend to understand all you are going through. My goal has simply been to give you my reason for hope, and the reason I do not plan to give up.
Oh, last thing. Let people love you.