Suffering and Hope
The sojourner has been embarking on this dark and lonely road for quite some time now. A year of pain amplified by loss, and visits to her past afflictions have been wearing down on her soul. The soles of her shoes are nearly gone from the endless miles of walking on this journey called life. She has been suffering for some time now. Although her body bears the marks of the pain she has endured, with the scars still throbbing deeply, although her heart is sore and nearly broken from the aches caused by grief and heartbreak, she still has her soul. Her soul is strong.
She doesn’t understand why this year had to be particularly hard. Why her closest friends and family had to experience sickness and death, loss and loneliness. She can’t understand why she had to witness those dear to her heart cry their way through the night and lay their faces on wet and salty sheets that stung their eyes. She did not understand, yet she could feel their pain and grieved with them, feeling every ounce of breakage on the heart like they have felt.
This year was particularly hard. She felt anger, frustration, and confusion at the injustices that constructed society and belittled people whose phenotypes were any strain away from that color called “white.” Such a reckoning rattled open the closet doors of her heart where she buried her own deep and personal experiences of racism growing up in the South. She thought she was over it; she thought she healed and moved on, but she was wrong. The residues of past prejudices and racial slurs made her feel like she was not worthy or wanted by society. She felt like she had to constantly please the White folks by catering to their needs and not saying or doing anything that would cause them to make her feel shame. Deep down, she just wanted to be accepted and be a part of them, because it hurt too much to be called “different” and “weird.” She first experienced that hurt at the age of 5, when she entered a new country, a new school, and immediately became the target of tease and rejection. That pain sat with her for a long, long time and became her only loyal companion in the classroom. It would be one that would take years to leave.
As she grew and her surroundings began to expose more hidden truths about society’s racism and injustices, the secrets from her closet slowly took form and became guests in her headspace. They asked her to think more deeply about how her own experiences with racism have affected her view of herself and the way she approached and behaved in front of a crowd that was majority White. Despite her knowing that she was deeply loved and a child of the King Most High, she would forget such important truths in the face of those whom she felt like she had to impress, because, of course, she had to be accepted. That is what her past had done to her. That was her chain, which, although may have lengthened a bit for her to roam more and give a bit more freedom, it still bound her to the lie that she would never be “smart enough” or “good enough” to fit in, be accepted, respected, and valued.
She could have chosen to continue to live a life that was chain-bound and weary. Or she could have mustered courage to realize that she was a person of infinite value and worth, and finally break those chains that have subjugated her life. In that hot summer, she decided to seek a helper who would help navigate her thoughts and remind her of the truth of who she really was.
The journey towards self-growth through self-reflection came at a cost of many tears and revisits to memories that she wanted to bury and forget. But her helper pushed her to go back to those memories and reclaim the truths that she had long forgotten. Those were the truths whispered to her by her mother when they were still in the motherland surrounded by loving family, those truths were those that that she alone would hear in the chapel as she knelt to pray.
Throughout this new rhythm of life, she continued to work with her helper to realize that despite what anybody’s opinion of her may be, her value does not diminish and her worth is not devalued. She was finally learning and understanding how to love herself, so that she could be able to truly love others, even those in the past who put those chains on her. Through the healing, she saw how truly loved she was, and that she did not have to live in fear of others’ judgment, because she remembered and chose to live by the unshakable truth that the only judgment that mattered is that of her Creator, and He has already deemed her beloved and beautiful. She finally began to break the links off her long and ugly chain, and slowly the scales fell from her eyes and helped her see that her past sufferings were forging in her something beautiful and unbreakable: hope.
Hope is an active verb. Hope is what has kept people alive when they were at the end of their rope; it is unperishable, it is what gives renewed life and vigor. Hope is when we roll up our sleeves and eagerly live out our anticipation of when we will be the truest version of ourselves through the sanctification and suffering that come our way. There are countless words to describe hope. It is forged as we continue to face and acknowledge how, although the ugly parts of our past may have shaped us, it does not not define us. Hope tells us that we still have some sleeve-rolling to do as we choose to break each link of that chain with each blow of that Axe of Hope. Hope is when we can sing songs of glory and joy, being confident of how we are unconditionally loved and redeemed, and that we can sharpen that axe by choosing to live in such truths and through loving others, helping them believe in these truths, too.
This year, I thought a lot about how suffering produces hope. Although in the midst of suffering we cry, we anguish, we anger, at the end, we come out with a greater sense of empathy, which allows us to love to a greater depth. We learn to truly love ourselves, not in a vain or narcissist way, but in a humble and healthy way that enables us to love our neighbors. This year, even with all the pain and suffering, was not a waste. It was a year of the beginning of breakthrough. It was a year where I finally began to feel in my heart all that knowledge in my head about how loved and precious I am, and finally begin to feel it and live by it. My Father never failed to shower me with grace despite my depravity. I learned more about my past and started to reconcile with it. I learned more about the ugliness of my sinful nature and how I still can be haunted by painful memories. I still faulted and failed; I fell and cried. I also experienced the other spectrum of self-love which is pride, and saw how pride and selfishness tainted who God really called me to be. I still struggle with sin and will still waver in my beliefs that I am a person who is valued and deeply loved, but this year, for the first time, I began to see and live out in hope. This year, hope became the springboard for all my future years. This year, suffering has taught me well.
Thank you, Jesus, for your own suffering that has allowed us to live freely in the truth that we are so loved and valued, that we are worth dying for. Thank you for being my living hope.