Hope is an anchor for the soul, but the rope to mine sure seemed long.
I was curled on my side in bed, too exhausted to sit up. And even though the sun was streaming through our turquoise curtains, everything seemed dark.
Nine weeks. It had been nine weeks since an infection crumpled my immunocompromised body into a heap in bed. Nine weeks since infection toppled one domino after another in my body, leading to three new diagnoses, no substantial progress, and no clear path to getting better.
Week after week I held onto hope that one more specialist visit or one more medication would lift me out of the sea of sickness. But I only saw more waves, and I didn’t think I had it in me to keep treading water. My face was still wet from weeping, and I stared and stared at the curtains and the bare tree branches beyond my window, grieving the gap between me and a life beyond bed.
Some people use PTO to sit on a beach on vacation, but my husband had just called his boss to use some of his to sit by my side in bed. The truth is, I was scaring him. The harder truth is, I was scaring myself.
I’m a licensed therapist, and I couldn’t reframe or regulate my way out of despair.
You can have all the coping skills in the world and have been abiding with Jesus through storms of suffering for ages, but when your body suddenly wanders into the liminal land of debilitating illness, it will break your heart because loss is loss.
Ryan sank onto the linen bedspread next to me and squeezed my hand. “I think we need to call Jordan,” he said. “I don’t have any prayers left to pray.”
Two hours later, we sat bundled up in our coats in the shade of our church’s bell tower. I gripped Ryan’s hand as our priest, Jordan, walked toward us and greeted us. “Would you like to sit inside?” he asked.
Ryan helped me stand and we slowly made our way up the last few steps to the church. Jordan placed some folding chairs in a circle in the small entryway. “I’ll just pray silently for you to begin,” Jordan explained.
And in the silence, I wept. I let my priest see me break. I let him witness me at my weakest.
Big, salty tears poured down my face. Big, snotty tissues accumulated in my hands. Big, quiet hope welled up deep inside.
What is faith if not remembering we have a Witness?
Jordan opened The Book of Common Prayer on his lap and began praying words that have been spoken over the sick for hundreds of years. He anointed my head with oil. My cup of cries still overflowed.
Then together, my husband, my priest, and I prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. My words were a whisper, but they welled up from the core of me.
All our weaknesses can be a wellspring. Whispered prayers on tear-soaked lips can surge with water from beyond.
Goodness and love followed me into that church. Kindness helped me up those stairs. Love met me in my priest’s willingness to welcome my cries.
When we cannot hold onto hope, we can ask to be heard. When we can no longer bear the weight of brokenness, we can let someone hear our sighs and cries.
Scripture says that faith comes by hearing, but I know it also comes by being heard.
Despair shuts the book on the story that we are loved, but Living Hope opens the pages and pulls us back into the paragraphs of peace — by the physiological shalom of being seen, heard, and held. Dendrite by dendrite, the distance between despair and hope is bridged in our bodies by the courage to allow our weakness to be witnessed.
It’s the path of nervous system regulation, but don’t be fooled: It’s the presence of Christ.
That day, my diagnoses were not reversed. I still needed help to walk down the steps of the church to our car. I’m still in the middle of a season of more sickness than I feel like I can handle. But in allowing my cries to be heard, I am remembering I am always held.
The God who holds all things together by His Word is also the God who allowed His Body to be broken for you and for me. And if your body or spirit are breaking like mine, I pray you’ll hear that a broken spirit God will not despise.
God doesn’t despise us for our despair. Here, where hope is hard, God comes down into the darkness with us, reaching us with His staff as we risk being heard and found.