On Hope In Loss
How do we find a way through when life has cut us off at the knees? When we’ve been devastated by our loss and our circumstances? How do we find our way, as one person said, to “be thankful for the thing you most wished had not happened?” Certainly, it isn’t to slap a smile of forced gratitude on our face. Certainly, it isn’t to pretend like we aren’t in pain, or to tell ourselves to “just get on with it.”
I think the answer lies in leaving room to be surprised by meaning. With hope, with whatever tiny amount we can muster, to allow life and God to surprise us, at some point down the road, that it wasn’t all for nothing.
The alternative, a total lack of hope, leaves us with nothing but regret. We can sometimes go for years if not decades feeling as if we are on the wrong path, and that if we could just somehow go back in time we would get back to “the ways things were supposed to be,” and everything would be okay again.
But, grievously, tragically, we are not given that opportunity. The only way through is to not force gratitude for our sufferings, or assuage ourselves with dissociative platitudes of “everything happens for a reason,” but to press forward, in grief, holding on to whatever bit of hope we can. Hope that one day it might mean something. One day we might be able to say that I’m thankful it happened, though I wish more than anything it had not.
But that realization cannot be manufactured. It most likely will have to surprise us, in that we wake up suddenly to the fact that we have found some value in our sufferings, despite every feeling or evidence to the contrary. Forcing a sense of meaning or gratitude is just another attempt at avoidance.
We are tempted to jump to the end before we have felt what we need to feel. Particularly for some Christians, it seems, there is a temptation to jump to the “no more tears” bit we faithfully hold on to, without lamenting our loss with anger and sadness. But doing so does not do as Christ did. What are we to make of the consummate human, Jesus, crying at the tomb of Lazarus - right before he is going to raise him from the dead?
He knows there will be eventual joy, but he still allows himself to feel the grief of his and the others’ pain. We too must allow ourselves to feel our losses. Even if that means we are angry at God about them and afflicted by them. But we must try our best, with the support of the Body and of the Holy Spirit, to hold on to hope. Hope that our losses might matter in some way, at some point, to some degree, after all.