When I was six years old, I was totally in love with an older man. He was eleven, his name was Shadow, and he had dark brown, floppy hair to die for.
As far as I was concerned, Shadow hung the moon, and I spent many hours planning our starlit wedding.
Around the same time I met Shadow, I discovered honest-to-goodness treasure in the storm drain of our apartment complex. My treasure was a tiny viewfinder box, shaped like a television (kind of like THIS ONE).
When I held it to my eye, I could see a picture of the Taj Mahal inside.
This little window-to-another-world was worth more to me than a week of ice cream and every episode of Roy Rogers put together. I carried it with me everywhere.
Thus began the summer of my two great loves: Shadow and the Taj. Little did I know my six-year-old heart was about to be broken.
One late August afternoon, I decided to show my treasure box to Shadow and a group of his friends. But rather than sharing, Shadow knocked it out of my hands and refused to give it back. When I tried to take it from him, he punched me.
My growing up life hadn’t been easy, so I was familiar with hard knocks. But I’d never been punched full-force in the stomach before. The sensation was quite a shock. In an instant the brightness of the day, the smell of Fall leaves, and the bigness of the world narrowed to three things:
1.) Shadow and his friends laughing
2.) Black stars framing my vision
3.) A total inability to breathe
I was devastated. And then I was mad. The minute I got my first breath back, I laughed at him. After that, I snatched my viewfinder out of his hand and marched away. Chin high, back straight.
I got around the corner of our apartment and collapsed into a puddle of six-year-old disillusionment. The hero of my starlight wedding dreams was a villain!
And then I discovered he’d broken my viewfinder.
In that moment, I was sure I wouldn’t ever have a worse day or a more broken heart.
But life is full of moments like that. Times that knock the hope, and trust, and faith right out of you. Moments that make you feel breathless and six years old all over again. I’m in a season like that right now.
We all have these ideas about what answered prayer should look like, what the goodness of God should look like, what hope and a future should look like. And then something happens that is so dramatically opposite, so NOT good, so hopeless, so contrary to our prayers.
Times like these rock us. It isn’t just the treasure knocked from our hands that shakes us. No, no. It is the questions, that swarm us like Ebola-bearing vampire bats, as we stand there in shock. Our hands empty, our hope deferred.
The more deeply we believed we were on the right track, the more devastating and violent the shaking of our faith when our dreams turn to dust and we discover we were wrong.
Some people simply cannot cope with the loss. I read a story today about a 29-year-old Italian man who threw himself off a wall when the Vatican denied his application for priesthood. In his suicide note, he said: “I wanted to be a priest, and dedicated my whole life to this goal, but it was denied me.”
Everyone’s treasure box is different. So your loss might look like the inability to have a child, the death of a loved one when you prayed for healing, the layoff from a career you loved, the injury that ends your scholarship, or the last signature on a divorce petition. But the heartache and the questions in the black nights that follow are the same:
Where is God?
Is He even listening?
Why did He allow this?
Is He powerful but not good?
Is He good but not powerful?
Was I somehow unworthy?
Did I miss His direction?
Who am I without my treasure box?
Simple loss is never simple. We don’t just mourn the tangible thing that’s died. We also grieve the death of our hope, while struggling to re-define our concepts of God’s goodness and sovereignty. It’s a messy, dark, tear-ridden wrestling match with a God who makes a whole lot less sense than we thought He did.
As musician John Mayer wrote so aptly,
“When you’re dreaming with a broken heart,
The waking up is the hardest part,
You roll out of bed and down on your knees,
And for a moment you can hardly breathe.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a root canal, anesthesia-free.
Yet, we have few options but to wrestle through, to keep rolling out of bed, to continue putting one foot in front of the other. We may no longer know what direction to go, but wall-jumping isn’t an option, so we keep living.
If you’re in this place, I wish I could say something that would comfort you. But as your fellow traveler through this dark night, all I can say is this:
1.) HANG ON – No season lasts forever. The black stars and breathlessness will recede. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but they will. Don’t lose heart.
2.) WALK ON – When life is nothing but dark nights, full of Ebola-bearing vampire bats and dead dreams, it is incredibly difficult to move forward. But do it anyway. Even if it’s half a step at a time. Don’t set up camp here any longer than you have to. Threads of hope will appear. Grab them.
3.) SERVE ON – It may seem outrageous to consider serving others when your world has imploded. But service is movement, and movement means you’re not dead. And sometimes, that movement is what you need to begin to feel hope again.
For more encouragement during this season, I recommend these two books below. I’m reading them simultaneously, and have found them well-written and helpful: