A Prayer of Faith
I worked with a chaplain who did not believe in using the word hope in her vocabulary.
She viewed it as “too Christian.” Hope was wrapped up in a theology of wishful thinking that placed one’s future in the hands of a God she did not believe in.
I have pondered her attitude about hope off and on for years.
Perhaps hope resides too much in the future and sets too many people up for broken dreams and broken hearts. “Disappointment,” according to Eric Hoffer, “is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”
Sure. I’ve been there. I have cried out for change and healing and direction in my life only to be more than disappointed when my hopes and expectations were not realized. I give thanks, however, that disappointment has yet to extinguish my ability or desire to continue to hope.
William Sloan Coffin once said, “Hope arouses, as nothing else can arouse, a passion for the possible.”
Because of my faith, even in the face of disappointment, I trust that God’s spirit is at work despite the train wreck my life may appear to be at times. In my hope I am embodying that passion for the possible.
Restless the other night with the usual worries I recalled this scripture: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 13:4 NKJV) Over and over I repeated these words, a mantra filled with tomorrow’s possibilities that soothed me back to sleep.
This is why I am a person of faith.
This is why I treasure my Christian tradition and spiritual practices.
In the times I feel life’s stressors pressing in, I need only to turn to scripture, or prayer, or a fellow spiritual sojourner for strength and guidance while gaining a renewed hope for the future.
That said, I am not convinced hope is exclusively Christian and perhaps, all these years later, neither does that other chaplain.
I have witnessed hospice patients of all spiritual persuasions remain hopeful throughout their disease process. Their hopes may change—hope for healing becomes a hope for comfort, which sometimes moves into the simplest hope of a good bowel movement, and eventually the hope for a peaceful death—but always their eyes are on the horizon, seeking the best that tomorrow may bring.
That’s the tenacity of hope. It’s is about never giving up!
Here is some scripture to consider from Romans 5:3-5. I’ve included verses from The Message and from the New International Version. Be blessed!
Today’s Spiritual Prescription:
As a baby comes through the birth canal, it may struggle to make its entry into the world, but being moved through such a tight space assures the child will have minimal fluid on its lungs when it takes that first breath.
Babies born by cesarean section, however, are at a greater risk of transient tachypnea (rapid and labored breathing) because the struggle to come through that narrow passage was avoided.
Yes. To struggle can be a good thing. And yet, we naturally prefer to avert it. Certainly understandable. Most people really rather not experience hardship. Birth canal be damned!
But that’s not how life works. In fact, life can often suck. Big time. In hospice, I meet individuals who have encountered the uglier sides of life. I hear unbelievable, heartbreaking stories on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
Amazingly, what I also hear in those stories of hardship are the epilogues of how individuals rose up out of the ashes. They were the ones who risked the vulnerability in reaching out to others, who shared about and processed their grief/loss/brokenness, and in turn helped others up out of their own ruins.
Be open to experiencing pain, loss, sadness or any other such crappy miseries.
Risk loving—with the chance of losing that which you have loved. Risk going beyond your comfort zone—with the strong possibility of failure. Take a chance on doing what you believe is right—even if you learn later that you were wrong.
Already “been there, done that” you say?
Then consider this:
Is it a pain you’ve caused someone else? A mistake or regret that you’d rather not face? Or perhaps harm caused to you that your harbor deep within?
Are you afraid to face the pain? Are you attempting to drown out a loss or tragedy with too much work, recklessness, or self-medication (food, drugs, alcohol, sex, t.v.)?
Anais Nin once wrote, “And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Struggle, but don’t remain there.
Don’t become bitter and close yourself off—remaining tight in that bud—because of past sufferings or in fear of new struggles. Allow yourself to open to the possibility of healing. Push through the darkness and into the light that you might reach out to others in return.
A bit of scripture to go along with your prescription:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
When people ask me how long I lived in the Sonoran desert I usually respond in terms of summers, not years. “I survived 6 summers!” I boastfully reply, as if they should be impressed with my cunning, woman vs. nature survivor skills. (Yeah…right…).
As I continue to ponder the spiritual lessons that the desert taught me, it may be no surprise that with the extreme climate the desert can bring that I would think of “shelter” as a spiritual necessity.
The Southwest sun can be brutal much of the year. Last May 2012, Tucson had two hikers die from the heat within a 48 hour period, one from Germany (age 35), the other from the Midwest (age 23). And let us not forget the countless migrants whose lives are claimed each year from heat related deaths. Taking shelter from the heat and understanding the dire importance of drinking lots of water is crucial in surviving in the desert.
My urban shelter came in many different forms. I discovered that using a UVA/UVB umbrella while walking reduced the harshness of the sun. It felt womb-like each time I entered my car after its windows were finally tinted. And I rejoiced every time I could sit or park in the shadow of a Mesquite or Palo Verde tree. They may not compare to the grandeur of a Maple or an Ash, but even the slightest bit of shade for me was a welcomed blessing.
And what might spiritual shelter look like?
This is often what I attempt to discover when I first meet a hospice patient and his or her family/caregivers. How have they coped in the past when things turned foul in life? When circumstances intensify, from where or whom do they seek shelter?
Here are some of the things that spiritually shelter me:
My environment is so very different these days living in the Pacific Northwest. But I will always be grateful for the things I learned on my desert sojourn. May your own journey provide you with valuable, spiritual insights.
And feel free to share them here at Desert Sojourn!
I haven’t blogged in such a long time.
Alas. So much for being a “true” blogger who’s at it unceasingly!
It seems, however, that I needed this hiatus. Much of my energy during this break has been poured into realizing a dream to move to cooler climates. After literally years of prayer (of asking, seeking and knocking—Matthew 7:7), a door of opportunity opened for my family and I to move to the Pacific Northwest. As I write this I am in a climate so very different from the desert. Eugene is wet, lush, green, cloudy and cold…and I’m loving it!
But the lessons I have learned from my time in desert have not escaped me, especially the spiritual ones. I am so grateful for the intense spiritual growth I’ve witnessed in myself over the last 5 1/2 years in the Sonoran Desert. My sojourn tested me physically, emotionally and, without a doubt, spiritually.
As I reflect on this desert journey, I want to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned. Here is the first one:
Summer in the desert can seem to last forever. It arrives early in the year and continues month after month. It is not uncommon for late March and early April to be in the mid 90s. The month of May continues to see temperatures rise and by June it is guaranteed to be dry and blazing. July, August and September are hot and if luck has it, humid with the wet monsoon season. By October, with the weather still warm both day and night, it feels like cool temperatures won’t ever grace the desert land.
And then it happens. A sudden shift occurs in the evenings. A cool breeze beckons you to open your windows and doors. The nights almost require a long sleeve shirt and quite possibly, for the thinner-blood, desert dwellers, a light jacket. With little warning and almost overnight, fall arrives.
But it wasn’t just the heat that I thought would never pass. There were days and weeks in the desert when I believed my depression would never lift, financial burdens would remain heavy or illness would forever be present in my life. I could look to the future and see no hope on the horizon—only more of the same, heat and heartache.
Ever felt this way? Ever believed life couldn’t possibly change for the better?
Like the fierce desert sun that can be so oppressive, perhaps your burdens are overwhelming you right now. You cannot find any shelter; no sanctuary seems to exist for the renewal of your spirit. Your life has become an ongoing battle and despair is winning. Just as cool weather in the desert seems to have abandoned the land, so too does hope seem out of reach.
If this is how you feel, if this is your reality here and now, know this: This…too…shall… pass.
This season of your life will NOT last forever. And if you cannot believe this for yourself, I will hold that hope for you. I have been where you are now.