In which there is no hope
“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.
God, please open my eyes.
Jenny. This is me. This is the exact emotional place I found myself yesterday morning. (Not pregnant, though, so you’re still winning there.) I’m so sorry you’re going through it, but I’m also supremely grateful that you wrote it down so that I can read it and reflect it back on myself. I’ll pray for you, sister. Pray for me too.
We often forget, doubt can be faith. Doubt, tamped down and buried away is usually just pride. But doubt brought to God the way little children bring weeds to their mothers is faith. Those little children expect their mothers to see the beautiful flowers and mothers do. God sees our weakness, our fear, our despair and takes them an does far more with them than any mother can with her children’s offerings. All will be well even though we usually have no idea what that means.
I’ll be praying for you and your family.
That is beautiful.
Jenny, I feel you. Pregnant with # 3, moving my job and our family halfway across country. What you said, about faith being a mental exercise right now, reminded me of C.S. Lewis talking about the will. He said that faith is really not about feeling (because we know how mercurial those are!), but it is an act of the will, repeated over and over again. Especially in times of trial, we really may not be “feeling it,” but we actually know through reason the Truth. If we continue to pray for God’s graces that we may understand or at least do His will, that He may help us remain open to understanding just enough to keep up with the “doing,” ultimately He will reveal to us over time what we need to know to actually deepen our faith. Modern society is about feeling–and that’s one of the ways that people have become so disinterested in faith, because if they don’t “feel it,” they won’t do it. But Lewis suggests that it’s the opposite, in fact. Faith is an exercise of the will, and like any other exercise, the more we do it, the more we’ll feel it (or, more accurately, understand it enough to deepen our faith and be reassured of His love and His guiding hand in all that we do and experience). So, go ahead and allow it to be a mental exercise that you will and that you ask God to will and work through you. I’m certain it will bear good fruit!
“…I’m actually not willing to drink this cup, Lord. Because it’s not the one I ordered.”
That sums up so beautifully my hurt pride and indignation at living the life I have. Too focused on being an unacknowledged ‘maid of all work’ and putting a master’s degree in geography to use in picking up dog dirt, which isn’t exactly the kind of dirt I had in mind.
It isn’t exactly what I wanted and the good Lord knows I rant enough about that. No, it may not be what I ordered, but what I was given is pretty wonderful and I need to stop stamping my feet and accept and nourish what I do.
It’s the grown-up version of “but I wanted chicken nuggets for dinner.”
“That’s nice, we’re having pork tenderloin instead.”
I’m right there Laura. My M.A. is being utilized to change many diapers. Which is good! But also not what I envisioned.
“I’m clinging to the premise that when there is no hope, where there is only weakness, Jesus is getting ready to break through.” You have NO idea how much I need this to be true, I’m done with everything…
Well, many years ago, not long after a big reversion, I was in trouble spiritually and could not figure my way out. I talked to my Trappist priest friend, Fr. Daniel (1907-2012-at New Melleray ), and he asked me how I was praying. I told him: “Lord, I want to believe in you, but I guess I really don’t.” He was horrified. He said, “Don’t pray like that! Say, ‘”Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.'” This prayer is from Scripture (Mark 9:24) and so it is the Scriptural way to pray in similar situations. In fact, I can think of a Biblical scholar who prays that prayer several times a day.
Yet what is wrong with praying the way I did, or with the phrase you used, “I don’t trust you, Lord”? It becomes clear once we put it in a human context, for we are made in the image and likeness of God.
To take an example close to home, what if your husband were to say to you, “I don’t trust you!” It is not only hurtful, alarming, and dreadful, it would be the very end of the relationship, would it not? No faith, no relationship. However thin a thread it may generate, making an act of faith (however weak) in a person establishes a line of communication over which acts of love and reciprocal acts of faith can travel. That is why when reality (Providence) challenges us, it is important to make acts of faith in God, for over this line of communication can come many inspirations and blessings.
What is more heartening when one is in a difficult situation to have one’s spouse, or parent, or boss, for that matter, say, “I believe in you!” If we are made in God’s image, it must be very similar for God. From hanging around with Pentecostals many years ago I learned this song: “God loves a cheerful giver. Give it all you’ve got! He loves to hear you laughing when you’re in an awful spot.” Could it be that he creates ( or permits) “awful spots” in the hopes of hearing our laughter, our *trustful* laughter in the midst of them?
Not only that, in an analogy with your househunting, I have followed the foundation of several Carmelite convents. Almost invariably things do not go as planned, there is a period of stress, plenty of incentive to pray and to trust. One could say, too, that the worse it is, the better that foundation will be. So, if that is the dynamic you are in, you can look forward to great blessings . . . if only you will trust in God, and make acts of faith: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”
“And immediately the father of the boy crying out, with tears said: I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief. ” Was this not followed immediately by a miracle?
This made me cry. Thank you. Especially the bit about the Carmelites…
Love your comment Lee!! Thanks for posting!
I needed to read this tonight so much. God knew. Thank you.
thank you for being so honest in your words about what you’re going through – this really helped me to read this. I will pray for you for your house hunting
Wow how candid… how raw and real… if men and women could get to the root of what and how we truly feel we might actually start to realize what and Who He truly is, what He did for us all and how He is the only answer to absolutely everything. If my sorrow and suffering brings me to know you ever more clearly and deeply… thank you than for the bitter cup that only You can transform
Into the cup overflowing! Thank you, thank you for all… the good, the bad, the challenging… my mom always said life will be filled with mini crucifixions and mini resurrections…. my mom has dementia now… I would add to her quote… and God will maximize all experience for our good and for His Glory!
We are in the same place as you: we keep having the same disappointing experience of not being able to secure a home to buy and watching the prices continue to rise, leaving us “behind” and looking at paying more for less. This is something that can make one feel very vulnerable, especially if you are technically “homeless” in that you really do not have a permanent residence. You have particular needs for your family, and the longer it takes to secure a home the more likely you feel like it will just not happen ever. One advantage you do have, though, is that your family is young still and you have many years of home ownership ahead of you. That means you can always jump into the market just to get something adequate rather than feeling like it is the last home you will buy (which when you are retired is how it feels!). This enables you to financially keep pace with the market rather than let the market jump beyond your reach so that later on if you want to move you will be in the price range you intended and your house will appreciate with the overall market. You have just sold your first home, sooner than you would have expected, so you might wince at that suggestion. However, you are wiser now about home buying, so you will be more knowledgeable about what you can handle in a house and what you cannot handle, so you are less likely to “bite off more than you can chew” in the realm of a fixer.
One way to alleviate some of that feeling of vulnerability is not only to place your trust in God’s providence, but also to let your husband shoulder the burden of creating a backup plan, like securing a rental temporarily if need be (i.e. allow him to be the one to ensure you have a place to live so you don’t have to manage all the details). Just knowing that your husband is taking ultimate charge of having a roof over your heads should give you some peace. Because as much as God will provide for you, it is not certain that His plans for your family at this time will be the purchase of a home. So think rental as a backup plan, it is a little more comforting in spite of the financial “loss” of not buying. Don’t think basement! : )
Also, I don’t know if your realtor advised this, but discuss it with him/her: prepare a letter to the seller of the home you wish to buy and briefly tell them about what you like about their home and its particular features and how it will work for your family, and be sure to let them know you have a baby on the way. Sometimes putting a face on the buyer helps the seller make a connection to you. If they love their home, this would be a way to show your appreciation for what they are offering.
Realtors will always say money is the deciding factor in making the offer. That is especially true when a house is new on the market and the market is hot. If a house has been sitting, it has not attracted a buyer either because it is overpriced or because it has a negative factor (and you likely already know that). Be sure to keep an eye on homes that don’t sell right away and see if the house can work out for you. You likely can get it for a better price than listed (sellers will take less, but don’t want to lower their price up front; they would rather negotiate price). You will also not face competition as much as when a home is first listed. So revisit homes that are sitting on the market and not moving. You may also find homes that have not fallen in your price range previously but have now lowered their price and do fit your budget (I assume your realtor is likely sending those price change listings your way already). But you usually have to act quickly on those, since others will notice the price drop and may act as well.
Price range: look at things that are lower than your max budget so you do have room to offer more if that is what it will take. Invariably, we always find homes at the top of our price range that need work and will likely get multiple offers, so that is another advantage of looking for something less than what you hoped for. Likely after your last experience of having to fix things up you want more “turnkey” but maybe you have to settle for some things needed like new appliances or paint or flooring which can be done quickly before moving in rather than after moving in. Those kinds of “dated” homes can be less appealing to other buyers, thus increasing your chances of getting the home. Many people cannot visualize what a place would look like with different flooring etc., they just see what is there and don’t like it. Have a sufficient budget for what can be done by someone else rather than DIY. That makes it a little better than turnkey, which is someone else’s choices, nice as that may be.
We live a long distance from where we are trying to buy, so that makes it much harder to look because the trip itself is physically exhausting and hard on my health. It is always good to look at a few homes rather than too many at once so you can really not get worn out and can really remember the details of what you looked at. You can also ask for available reports and disclosures before looking so you know what you are dealing with before writing an offer. This can expedite things and avoids unpleasant surprises.
I hope these suggestions are useful to you in your search.
Dagnabit, life is hard when it doesn’t go according to plan! I don’t know how many times it’ll take to really appreciate how awesome God’s plans are. This isn’t how I would have planned my life either, for very different reasons, and it makes me cry and question God too sometimes. Faith is tested when it’s hard. You always make me think. Prayers for your family because I can only imagine how difficult this particular struggle is!
Needed this. Thank you. Just got some rough job news for my husband which means another year of him working 7 days/80 hours per week and so little time for rest or family. I found myself so mad that “our prayers weren’t answered” and then so mad that I was complaining amidst all the other blessings and miracles in our life. Sometimes it’s hard to believe He can make weak little me into a saint if I cooperate with Him!
Thank you for your raw honesty. A month ago I found myself in confession pouring out my grief (bawling) while some newly ordained priest tried to console me. We had just lost a third child to miscarriage and I was so angry at God. We’ve been faithful to the Church’s teachings since the very beginning of our marriage and three times we’ve gone through the agony of losing a child. I was terrified that if we continued to be faithful (and we will), what lies ahead is just more death. After months of “empty” prayer, my husband suggested that perhaps God would speak to me through someone else. That night, we went to the Beloved series and the topic was wedding vows. I was sitting in the dark watching the video when the promises we had made 7 years earlier were spoken again: “Do you promise to lovingly accept children as a gift from the Lord?” And just like that, my perspective changed. I had begun to feel cursed by God. The third loss was especially crushing and caused me to lose sight of the promise God made to us even as we vowed our lives to Him. Each child is a GIFT no matter how short their young life. Although my spiritual life is still precarious and weak, that tiny epiphany gave me the strength to pray “I don’t understand, but I know that you are good.”
Hi Jenny! My name’s Peter and I’m writing from England. Firstly congratulations! A new life is always a gift, even if not always easy. Your post, as usual, struck a chord. We are a Catholic family in a very secular country. We have three young girls close together, including twins. Finding support and understanding has often been difficult, even in our parish. Even in our families. It has been lonely at times. But I have found much comfort and support from reading your blog, even though you are writing from a mother’s perspective, and I am a father. I find your experiences often align with mine, and your motivation (living authentically in the faith and raising your children to know and love Jesus) always seems to. I don’t have any easy answers to the challenges you face and I shan’t offer you empty platitudes. But in the midst of your struggles, I would like to thank you for your ministry and brave witness – it does make a big difference, even 5000 miles away.
thank you for this post, I’m in the other end of this and still everything you said applies to me also. I’m hoping St. mother teresa hears my moans and brings them to Blessed Mother first and then to Our Triune God.
I’m right there with you right now. Distraught, ashamed and angry. And then tearful because I am so ungrateful. I keep thinking of Peter Kreeft describing Aslan digging deep into the dragon scales to set free the boy inside. (Sorry – Narnia references. I can’t help myself.) I’m hoping that my scales are being ripped off. I’m trying to keep in mind that I’m grateful that God still cares enough to do this for me.
How many times have I felt and thought these things that you have posted about? Too many times to count…
I’m in a much different place than you, emotionally, situationally ( not a word) , physically and age wise. But I so get all of this..
Our family is going through a setback, which is nowhere near as huge as what many other families are struggling with/ living with..
I am a bit floored that this is happening to us, right now.. Really, God?
My first reaction was one of disbelief and tears…
I am now in the stage of forced optimism… I have a picture in my living room that has the word “Hope” written on it. I look at it every morning and can’t help but glance at it throughout the day..
I know God has a plan.. Every day I consider this in reflection:
“What’s the plan, God ? I know you have one for us.”
For me, it’s the waiting that’s the hardest…
Refreshing as always. I just want to breathe in your honesty because there just isn’t enough of it in my world. Thanks for writing this.
About 18 months ago this was me, staring down a move, bellyfull of #5 under 8 swelling bigger and bigger, lots of overwhelm in every direction. That belly turned into the most joyful baby, who brought great healing & consolation as we moved rentals for the 5th time (we moved mid April into a place only my husband & 2 eldest had seen & delivered baby mid July), and then 2 months ago with baby at 9 months old, everything worked out (in the Lord’s, NOT MY, timing) to buy our 1st home. His ways are not our ways. Praying for you all. It’s clear you KNOW He is holding you close…but I pray that He let’s you FEEL his care & closeness too. You can do this, mama. Thanks for bringing us in on the ride.
Jenny, I just read this post (kinda backlogged on my blog reading), and I have to say, wasn’t the Gospel reading today so timely? (“Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”) 🙂 God loves us so much. Sometimes it is hard to wrap our tiny brains around that. My husband is fond of saying that God always answers our prayers and sometimes the answer is “no.” Or, “not yet” because He sees the bigger picture and we have to trust in that. Ah, abandonment…so hard–especially in the face of raging hormones! Take a deep breath, tell Him you love Him, tell Him you are clinging to Him, beg Him for His grace to take tiny steps. He is there, loving you, carrying you. I know. (And many are praying for you too!)
After a 2+ year job search by my husband, I too have been struggling to feel loved instead of forsaken. I’ll be praying that all of our families receive the breakthrough we’ve been praying for.