Hello dear readers.
It’s Sunday evening and 68 in Nashville. The sun hasn’t began to set just yet. I’m sitting at one of my favorite retreats, JJ’s Cafe on Broadway. I’m eating a muffin and drinking a steamer because I’m in the process of moving for the summer and cooking food isn’t a real thing (muffins can completely be a dinner food).
I sat down here to write a post entitled “My Nashville Summer Bucket List” because, surprise of all surprises, I’m going to be staying in Nashville for the summer. This is an incredibly huge blessing made possible by people that love and care about me so much. I am so looking forward to the opportunity to be here and work with Belmont, while at the same time having some breathing room to just enjoy Nashville. Yesterday I went to the Sevier Park Fest in my favorite corner of town (12th South all the way!) and just had so much fun enjoying the truly creative sprit of this city. It’s going to be wonderful spending some very hot days here.
But I didn’t really feel right about writing about that when something else has been weighing on my mind.
See, what I didn’t tell you in the first few paragraphs of this blog post is that I’m currently sitting at a wooden table with words stamped into it. They’re faded and hard to make out, but as I kept reading, the familiar phrases formed themselves into a memory, of me reading “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski, just a summer earlier. The poem reads as follows:
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
I also didn’t tell you that previous to this, I went to the evening church service at my Nashville church, Ethos. Completely alone. As someone who is constantly surrounded by other people, this was extremely uncomfortable for me. I felt like I was being judged for every uncomfortable second as I was the sole occupant of an entire row. The service started and we sang a familiar song, “In Christ Alone”:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
and the especially powerful last verse:
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
I found myself crying. Not in surrender, hope, or joy.
If you’ll recall in my single post last month, I’ve been going through some pretty rough stuff. For the sake of maintaining privacy (if that even exists) I won’t go into all the details. But on that day in March, I pretty much thought that I had gone through all there was to go through. “It could not possibly get worse,” I thought to myself.
Never think that things can’t get worse. Life has a cruel sense of humor sometimes.
A lot of things have happened that have left me reeling. And suddenly, those words from my last post seemed meaningless. Yes, I’m okay with not being okay, but accepting your difficulties does not end them. It seemed like the more and more I surrendered to God, the more He wanted to take from me. The more I wanted to trust in Him, the more He seemed to crush my last hopes.
So I sat there, tears streaming down my face, talking to God. “How could you possibly expect me to stand here and sing these words? In Christ alone my hope is found? Firm through the fiercest drought and storm? God, I have needed you so much in the past two months. I have called on Your name and admitted that I don’t have control. I have tried my best to surrender to You and all that You do is let things keep happening? Where are you, God?”
People have told me over the past two months to “Keep the faith! Take heart! Have hope!” Those words seem earnest enough. But I’ve learned that they are, in fact, meaningless. You cannot “have hope.” If you sit down with your eyes closed and say “God, give me faith!” you aren’t going to suddenly feel this massive burst of optimism (if you do, let me know, because I must be doing it wrong). Just because we say that we trust and surrender in God isn’t going to make it easier to endure our suffering, nor will it promise to bring an end. In many cases, things will, and do, get worse.
Faith is not a gift. It is a choice. And a hard one at that.
It is not saying a prayer and hoping that things will get better. It is not some shining ideal that you can hang on your wall. It is not something that will protect you when the world goes wrong.
Faith is hard. Faith defies your natural inclinations. It is choosing to believe in the goodness of God when life has been anything but good. It is the will to hold on to God’s promises even when you are battered and bruised to the point where you no longer recognize what those promises are. It is the strength to hold up your weary head in the middle of a desert and look to the skies expecting rain, when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.
Faith is hard.
So why choose it?
Bukowski writes “there is a light somewhere./it may not be much light but/it beats the darkness.”
Faith is choosing to find the light in a sea of darkness. If you’ve ever been out at night and seen a solitary star, you never pay attention to the vast blackness. Your eyes are focused on that tiny, flickering, pinprick of light. Sailors have used those lights to navigate the waters during times when maps and compasses failed.
I’m not saying that you have to choose to find the light. It would be much easier to submit, to surrender, to give in to the impossibilities of our situations. Turn on the news for five minutes and you will see enough death, famine, corruption and disaster to never make you want to believe in anything again. It’s easy.
Or. You can choose faith.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying that it’s going to make you feel any better today, tomorrow, or in the future. I’m not saying that faith will stop you from crying out to God in anger (I’ve learned that He can take it). But I am saying that it will be worth it. Don’t ask me when or how or why—that’s for God to decide. But I’ve seen enough in nineteen years to know that no matter how bad, how absolutely hopeless things might seem, there is a light. But you have to fight for it. Psalm 27:13-14 tells it like this:
“I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.”
The last part of that verse isn’t a promise; it’s a challenge. We will see God’s goodness, but we first have to show our faith. Our faith formed on the dark days, on the days when we don’t feel like it, on the days when it would be so much easier to choose to surrender to the hopelessness of the seen rather than the hope of the unseen.
I hope that whatever situation you are going through right now—whether it is sickness or disappointment or worries about the future—I hope and pray that you will find the strength in you to choose faith. Especially when it’s hard. It’s a hard-fought battle, but we have One who goes before us and assures the victory.
Wishing you love and extra strength for this next week,