On the senselessness of hope.

Right now, as I write this, I have three images in my mind.

The first, a photo I just saw posted to a friend of a friend on facebook. A little girl, maybe four years old, leaning in to place a kiss on her mother’s forehead. Her mother is in what is thought to be the final days or hours of a struggle with cancer. 

The second, a photo of a gravestone, adorned with a few simple flowers. It’s the gravestone of a friend’s son. He was born and died about six months before Elanor was born. He left this earth fourteen years ago today, his tiny body only alive for hours.

The third, not so much an image, but a story of a three year old boy who also left this earth days ago, suddenly, of unseen injuries suffered from a fall. He is from Africa, and my brother-in-law’s brother is a pastor at the church where the family attended. 

It’s supposed to be a season of hope, but with images like this, it seems the hope is hidden. It’s hard to find. Honestly, I don’t really know where I’m going with this as I write –it’s just that this year in particular, although second-hand, I’m beginning to see the cognitive dissonance that comes with grieving at Christmastime. It seems wrong. 

I passed a funeral home just today, its outside adorned with a pair of large Christmas wreaths with big red bows. I wondered if I might find a Christmas tree twinkling inside. It just seemed …wrong. A Christmas tree inside a house of mourning seems a mockery, to me. A reminder that the world will go on celebrating, when it seems there’s nothing worth celebrating in the hollow, dark tunnel of grief. 

And yet, there’s this little preschooler, losing her mother, and yet, by her grandfather’s testimony, she’s still proclaiming it “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Still.

I am without words for a moment. 

Except one. 

Hope.

Romans 5:2b-8

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings,because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

In some versions, that bolded part is translated “and hope does not disappoint.” That is the phrase that hung in my mind as I drove home today, thinking of the wrongness of grief at Christmastime. I think that hope not disappointing is a very different thing from not being made ashamed by hope, but I could see how they are related. Either way, it’s a strong hope that can make that claim, because shame and disappointment both kill hope. This hope is a hope that is indestructible, because it comes from Truth. 

I wrote a story my semester in college that began as a metaphor -there was a death in the storyline that I placed as a parallel to losing something that couldn’t really be possessed. I can’t go into detail here, as it’s filed in my “Ponderable Things” category, and as such, I won’t delve the mystery here, but it reflected a deeply personal story of my own.

–My point was (and I did have one…), I’ve known grief, but I feel differently now about finishing that story. The death in my story was from cancer, leukemia to be specific. I’ve known some relatively close friends who have dealt with cancer –my uncle died years ago of complications from leukemia, but I haven’t really walked the path of dying from cancer with anyone close to me. And now, I realize that to use that plot point requires not only experience I do not possess, but a sense of the holiness of Last Things of life that I do not know first-hand. And so, I don’t really know where to go from here. All that is really pretty trite and silly in the face of what I started out this post with, but it’s what’s bumping around my brain in the middle of all this. But, it’s Story, and if anything, I know that all good stories reflect Truth. And I realize that there’s something missing there.

Thing is, even seeing these things, these images of managing to find hope through grief second-hand, is overwhelming to me. When it comes to grief, I’m an amateur. That’s not something I am eager to change, but I see through the lens of others’ stories and testimonies that perhaps that indestructible hope is best forged through grief. Perhaps the juxtaposition of “the most wonderful time of the year” and the most tragic thing anyone could imagine really might make sense in God’s story.

And I have to wonder -how much did Mary really know of her Son’s future? Whatever she knew, whatever Ponderable Things the angel shared with her, I think she makes an excellent portrait of  indestructible hope.