Several weeks ago, I was working through a series of questions that my publisher New Growth Press wanted me to answer as they work to promote Promises in the Dark:
The questions are about facing discouragement, feeling weak, and overcoming the fear of hoping. Good questions that are very much in line with the content of my book.
But it's hard for me to answer the questions, because I am, at this moment, having difficulty facing discouragement, feeling weak, and overcoming the fear of hoping. Which just goes to show that being able to articulate your thoughts and put them on paper doesn't equal the end of the heart struggles. My cadre of internal medicine patients at the hospital is having a hard run. As I'm typing answers to these questions, my colleague texts me to tell me of the unexpected death of a young patient I saw just yesterday.
This is hard for me at the moment because of my patients, but it can be anything - family, friends, life, the world around us, anything - it can be hard to look at our world honestly and find the courage to hope.
The next question reads, "You write about times where you have been afraid to hope due to dire circumstances. How did you overcome that fear in order to reach for God's promise of hope?" Have I really done that? If I have, then why can't I do it now?
In an effort to get some momentum, I start with some exposition on the subject:
My primary job is to care for the sick bodies of poor people in an underserved setting. I often lose that battle, and because of that, I can be quite guarded in my hope. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick," says Proverbs. If someone's hope gets dashed every time they don't win the lottery, we would blame their expectations rather than the winning number. Sometimes it feels like that for me. Sometimes the odds don't favor hoping.
The crucial difference between my world and the lottery illustration is God's promise. God has not promised me the lottery, but something far better. He promises that he is always present, that he is always at work, that he is for me in my efforts to care for the poor and needy, and that he is making all things new. We are not called to hope for the sake of optimism. We are not called to hope based on the natural odds of the world around us. Christians are called to hope because they believe that God's promises are true, and that he will actually act to fulfill them. We "factor God in" to our circumstances, and as we do, we find reason for unexpected hope.
The next part draws me up short, because I know I haven't yet answered the part of the question that says "how do you overcome that fear in order to reach for God's promise of hope?" My writing stutters. I'm always struggling to hope, even now... I don't know what to write. My head has already said its piece, but my heart is finding it hard to trust in the very promises I just cited.
I'm sitting at my desk, looking out at my backyard. Stuck.
My phone fires off a series of chimes, which probably means a message from a Burundian colleague, given the Burundian habit of chopping a message into multiple short texts. I'm hoping it's not more bad news.
The message is from a medical-student-turned-colleague who worked at Kibuye for a while before going to work at our sister hospital in the capital city. I had sent a 24 year old woman with persistent, terminal kidney failure down to see a kidney specialist, though I had no real hope that she would be able to go, or that it would make much difference if she did. Her kidney disease was too severe (for medical folks, a Creatinine >25 mg/dl) and too persistent (a couple months). It was shocking that she was still alive, but she didn't seem to have a curable problem.
At any rate, this colleague is texting to tell me that they decided to just hospitalize her and monitor her while giving her some fluids. After a few weeks, they are now sending her home with basically normal kidneys. He thought I'd want to know.
I'm shocked. I'm struggling to hope, even now... I look back at the half-finished thought on my computer screen. I wrote that three minutes ago, and now my heart is filled with unexpected joy.
The timing of these events stuns me. It feels like a brief moment of clarity. I needed exactly what came. I shift from staring out the window to looking instead at my stunned reflection. My driving thought is "I will either live like God is actually, really at work invisibly in the world around me, or I won't. What will I do?"
I continue the paragraph:
I'm struggling to hope, even now. The struggle is not resolved, and the fear is not yet overcome. But in my experience, hope is a gift - even an unlooked-for gift. Just when I'm so afraid to hope, there is some unexpected goodness, some healing, some newness that teaches me again to hope.