Many of my friends are going through some extraordinarily difficult trials at the moment; the kind of situations that reduce articulate prayers to urgent, wordless begging. I feel particularly useless on the other end of our satellite-mediated conversations. These are the kind of blessed people who don’t need to be regaled with a litany of pseudo-spiritual platitudes about trusting God more, or letting go of pride, or learning to look on the bright side of things; they just need to talk, to know they aren’t alone.
When I was in the midst of my own little bout with the acidic fog of depression and loneliness, my mentor weekly exhorted me to two things: to claim the promises of God regardless of whether or not I felt like they could possibly be true, and to be patient. It was good advice, albeit incredibly frustrating at times. Often when he would remind me of those two things I would whine, “But I’ve been patient for weeks! What more does God want from me!” Apparently one does not master the divine art of patience in a month. Go figure.
I’ve been reflecting a bit on the character of patience, especially now that I have more clarity about what God was doing in those three years of struggle. It isn’t much, but I thought I’d share with you the image that has come to define my perception of a patient endurance of suffering:
Keeping my eyes open in the dark. In those moments where it seems as if there is no light at all, when the repeated assurances of the existence of light seem absurd or unhelpful, I have to keep my eyes open. I have to keep looking for that foreign glimmer, fighting against the constant temptation to succumb to weariness, to close my eyes. After all, I sometimes find myself thinking, there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable difference if they’re open or not; the world is still shrouded in an impenetrable night. It’s hard enough to deal with the pain of suffering without having to daily experience the sting of unfulfilled hope.
It’s relentlessly tiring to stay focused, to refuse the urge to sleep, to deny that the darkness could be the totality of things, to believe the light will appear as weeks, months, and years pass without that glorious inbreaking of the sun.
But if I close my eyes, how will I ever see the light when it comes?
To strive for patience is one of the least passive ways to fight against the darkness. Patience is not just a neutral state of inaction as I wait for something to change – that’s apathy. Patience is a fiery rejection of suffering’s power to limit reality. It is a stark and magnificent witness to the hope uniquely found in Christ and his work in history.
My friends are fighting to own that truth, to live in bold expectation that God will make his redemptive power known even as the overwhelming pain demands they forsake that hope and give in to despair. The quality of their convictions and faith is beautiful and challenging to behold. Their decision to be patient, to trust in the midst of suffering, is a profound proclamation of the gospel and a sign that, even now, redemption is real.