I had gotten my hopes up so many times, sure that things would improve.  They just had to.  I couldn't continue living like we were.  

Except, they really didn't improve.  Like, at all.

Oh, there was a slight upshot for a few days, but eventually everything just crumbled...again.

If you live with a spouse who deals with depression, you know what I'm talking about.  The vast amounts of hoping one can do, the feeling that this time...this time...something would be different.  After years of hoping and having those hopes dashed time after time after time, it becomes too exhausting to hope.

I never thought I would utter those words... too exhausting to hope? What kind of faith is that?!  

Well, it's the human kind, that's what it is.  

But in the midst of living through the ebb and flow of hope and disappointment, Jesus whispered love to my heart.  I didn't even know if Jesus had stuck around for this insanity that was my life.  Even though theologically I knew He would never leave me nor forsake me, it sure felt like He had abandoned ship.

But this love was whispered through sharing my struggles with my wise and trustworthy mentor.  (Another case for being in community!)

This is what I learned

1.  Suffering ----> Perseverance ----> Character ----> Hope

Paul's meaty words in Romans 5 reverberate in my heart, because one of the things I long most for in this life is proven character.  So when I was presented with this verse, I took note.

"....we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.  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.' {Romans 5:3-5 NIV}

Now, are "glory" and "sufferings" two words that we ever hear in the same sentence in the world we inhabit?  Right. The messages we hear are, escape the pain, do for yourself whatever you can to eke out some sort of meaningful existence, don't let anyone get in your way, forget about your failures, put your struggles behind you....  I could go on.  

The gold is this: God can accomplish far more in our weakness, frailty, and suffering, than at any other point in our journey.  Yes, we get to experience mountain top moments and peaceful plateaus, but it's the valleys where the gold is forged.  If we don't have a good theology of suffering, our faith will die out of disappointment and anger.

2.  Hebrews 11:4-16, emphasis on 13-16 (ESV)  "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland....But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city."

Woah!  God is not ashamed to be called their God!?  Those who died waiting for His promises!?  Now that's a statement.  The truth that this world is not our home rings even more clearly in light of these verses.  When it seems like all is lost, when nothing will ever work out, we must remember that this is not all there is.  There is more!  So much more, in fact, that what we experienced on earth will pale in comparison to the glories of Heaven and being with Jesus face-to-face.  

I know sometimes that can seem like a faint wishing, a far-off truth, a desperate cry for consolation.  But it's still the truth.  "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." {Rom. 8:18 NIV} This is something I have clung to in the darkest hours of my journey.  When our focus is only on what's in front of us, we will be endlessly frustrated and disillusioned.  But we serve a God who keeps His promises, who holds fast to the covenant He himself made.  

My final thought, for now, comes from CS Lewis.  

3. Chapter 8, The Screwtape Letters (the whole paragraph is worth reading, but this sentence is the point).  "Our cause [the demons' cause] is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's [God's] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

This sentence is worth its weight in gold as far as I'm concerned.  I've never felt more encouraged in my life - to be in a place where I have no desire to obey the Lord, and yet, I am compelled to because I love Him.  So I put one foot in front of the other, wondering where He is, and walk out obedience the best I can.   

The truth of the matter is that sometimes, emotionally speaking, we are hanging naked and bleeding on a cross.  And in those times, the only comfort to be found is that since Jesus experienced this horrendous pain literally, and felt the abandoned by the Father ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!?"), and we have His life in us as believers, we can cry, scream, and rant to Him, because He knows.  He knows the full extent of our pain.  He can take our fist in his face.  He longs for us to suffer well, with him.

How do we suffer well?  That will be the topic of my next post.  Hope to see you there!