“The Russians have a saying: ‘The only whole heart is a broken heart.’ And I think what they mean is that when our presumptions about ourselves, about what life means, our aspirations for self-satisfaction, our concepts of success—whatever those may be—are shattered, whenever we experience defeat, defeat, radical defeat, in which there is no hope: THAT is the moment of potential beginnings of the real. We are called to go deeper and farther. This is our Lord Jesus on the cross. This is the genesis of the power of Christianity. The power of Christianity begins in absolute weakness. Weakness. Weakness on the cross. The defeat of everything. This is a story. This is a very big story.”
—Michael O’Brien, talk given on 12 June 2017 at Loyola New Orleans
I read the above quote from one of my all time favorite authors (get on it Christy, your book report is due soon) and that line in particular jumped out: “in which there is no hope.”
I fall for the magical thinking version of Christianity again and again. That because I’m praying and because I’m trying life is going to come up roses. And if I’m oblivious enough to, um, pretty much all of salvation history, I can usually work myself into a pretty good pout when things do not, in fact, go according to (my) plan, are not clipping along at an efficient and satisfying pace.
But then I remember that God let His own mother give birth in a stable. That all of his best friends were brutally murdered, save the one who maybe died alone on a desert island. And I am struck anew by the radical otherworldly nature of the God I claim to know.
I don’t know Him all that well, after all.
I’ve been returning to this Mother Teresa quote lately, that “God does not call us to be successful. God calls us to be faithful.” It’s haunting me, and it seems applicable in nearly every situation I can conjure up.
This summer feels impossible. My oldest kids are old enough to be somewhat autonomous and yet also old enough to know that mommy lying on the couch for much of the day and smearing peanut butter on tortillas for sustenance is no way to live. I want to be joyful and present and available and grateful, but more days than not I am selfish and self pitying and nauseous and oh so sick of piling little bodies into car seats for yet another house showing.
Every time we submit an offer on a house that gets rejected, I feel it like a physical wound. Like God is turning His face away intentionally, blind to our needs and indifferent to my pain and rising panic. As I watch my waistline slowly expand with the surprising miracle of another new life, I mentally calculate how many weeks pregnant I’d be if this house goes under contract. Now this one. Now this one. The weeks whittle away towards an imaginary deadline and I panic, imagining the worst case scenario of living in my in-laws basement, of our generous friends coming back Stateside and needing their house back asap. Of the median sold home price in the Denver metro area rising another 10 percent between June and July, like it did from May to June.
I have very little trust in God right now. In the most melodramatic and hormonally fueled overstatement, I actually feel completely abandoned by Him.
So faith right now is an intellectual exercise. And don’t think for a moment I’m not ashamed that it is the mere removal of material comforts that has me here. I am ashamed. My kids are healthy, my husband is wonderful, we’ve been given a beautiful new soul to care for, and we have the most supportive and loving family and friends anyone could hope for. And I’m utterly undone by the relatively minor detail of not being able to find somewhere to live.
And it’s this: there is no room at the inn, and Christmas is coming sooner or later.
I’m clinging to the premise that when there is no hope, where there is only weakness, Jesus is getting ready to break through.
I don’t know what you’re dealing with right now in your life. Maybe a hurting relationship, a hard diagnosis, some sort of seemingly impossible situation. Dare we believe that in these moments of dark hopelessness, however objectively challenging or actually fluffy they be, the One who is hope is standing on the other side, ready to storm the breach?
I can’t say enough how embarrassing it is to find myself here. Not because I’m smarter or should know better, but because it is revealing to me how weak and self centered my faith is, and it’s humiliating.
It’s humiliating to admit that I see God as a kind of benign genie who grants wishes based on performance. It’s humiliating to think of Christians being martyred for their faith 6,000 miles away while I cry into my decaf over real estate. It’s humiliating to realize that I’m actually not willing to drink this cup, Lord. Because it isn’t the one I ordered.
I don’t have a neat takeaway for any of this, just that it’s raw a hard and stupid all at the same time, and I’m sure it’s the pregnancy hormones and the heat and good old fashioned human weakness, but it’s embarrassing just the same.
I don’t trust you, Lord. And in spite of my treachery, You never let go. You are silent but you haven’t withdrawn your protection. I can’t feel you but I can see proof of your provision all around.
Whatever you’re facing this summer, know that you’re not alone, and that there are no perfect Christians walking around with unshakable confidence convicting their souls at all times. Reading through St. Faustina’s diary the past few months has demonstrated that to me in spades. If Jesus literally appears to you after communion and you’ve still got trust issues, then Houston, we have a problem. And we might actually be the problem: fallen, fallible human hearts afraid to trust and prone to fickle faltering.
Oh well, He loves us just the same. St. Peter, St. Faustina, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Joseph, and you and me. If He is the constant sun, I am the toddler screwing my eyes shut and crying because it’s dark.