The land of unanswered prayer is full of people like me—people who have lost their optimism. People who spend sleepless nights waiting for another shoe to drop. Many of us then seek to protect ourselves by lowering our expectation to minimal levels. We trade hope for safety.
Hear me, friend: This is not a sound exchange.
I know, I know—I keep telling you to embrace the pain in whatever form it comes. I keep telling you to eschew fantasy and meet your aching straight on. All of this is true. But it will do you no good to hurl yourself in the other direction, either.
Aching is a part of our existence, and it always will be. But then, so is joy. There will be storms, but there will also be days with a gentle breeze, a blue sky, and seventy-five-degree temperatures. Is one day any more solid than the other? Is a pessimist’s world any more realistic than the optimist’s? Neither has much control on the world, but both will taste hardships as well as blessings.
I made a grievous miscalculation when I let my hope die the way I did. In doing so, I became an enemy of surprise. I put a cap on what God could do, on what my son could do, and in how much I could grow.
This is why we must be wary of which voices we pay allegiance to. In the world of autism, for instance, we hear many voices. The prognostications of doctors and specialists can be devastating. They sometimes say things like, “Your son will probably never learn to speak,” or, “Your little girl is not capable of empathy,” or, “Don’t expect her to ever make friends.”
I’m not suggesting we ignore these pronouncements. We should listen to and ponder them. But why should we swallow them whole? Do you know how many children have been sentenced to these futures and yet overcome them?
But this isn’t about autism; it’s about you. You will hear the pronouncements, too, if you haven’t already. Your situation is full of questions and uncertainties, and voices will emerge to fill those uncertainties. They will tell you that nothing will ever improve. They will tell you to shut the door to the possibility that anything will change or that your heart will ever heal. They will tell you to go into the hope-management system and lower the bar until it’s level with your ankles. They might even know what they’re talking about.
It might look hopeless from where you sit. Indeed, it makes no sense to keep hoping for good things if we are on our own, or if God is dead. But what if he lives? What if the songs we sing on Sundays are true? What if God’s Spirit is yet active in this world? How could we ever surrender completely to sorrow? How could we shut the door to the intervening hand of a saving God?
You are hurting, I know, and you have a right to your pain. Jesus Christ, too, was a man of sorrow, a man who wept. You are a child of the most high King, and as such, you have privileges:
- You have permission to admit the truth when you are hurting.
- You have permission to feel fear at grief’s dark hours.
- You have permission to ask, “Why have you forsaken me?”
- You have permission to weep for hours on end.
- You even have permission to embrace a thing without celebrating it.
But as a child of God and a follower of Jesus, you are forbidden one thing: You are not allowed to give up hope.
I understand the tension. What I’m asking of you is not easy: to let go and to keep holding on at the same time; to surrender your deepest longings while trusting that an invisible God might breathe some life into them still. But hope is not yours to kill. It never was. Hope was a gift for you to hold, not to control. You hold only the end of a vine stretching heavenward, and you must tend it, even in the winter months. You must keep it alive.
These are hard things. It would be far easier to smother the cries of our hearts. There would be less pain that way. But the moment we cut ourselves off from the possibility of sorrow, we also cut ourselves off from laughter. We cannot numb one side of our heart only.
There is a way forward on this journey, and it is narrow. It requires that we refuse those protective measures and remain vulnerable. We must keep our hearts open to disappointment and surprise. We must continue to risk heartbreak.
If the weeping was all there was, I would have despaired. I would have allowed my new, safe fantasies to play on forever. Fortunately, I discovered that my culture was wrong. Joy was every bit as tangible as aching. And I was finally about to find it.
You’ve been reading with Jason Hague from his book Aching Joy: Following God Through the Land of Unanswered Prayer. Read the intro and chapter one for free here. To read Jason’s blog or watch the videos about his family and their journey with autism go to achingjoy.com.