Hope in the midst of hopelessness

For the past 5 years, I have been sharing bits and pieces of my life with you and some of you have come to know me a little through my posts if you did not know me before. So for those of you who have never met me, I am really smart… I am talking high IQ, straight As, top-of-my-class smart but underneath all of that smart is someone who has a lot of anxiety.

Since my childhood, I have harbored irrational fears and worries and I have carried these on into my adult years. Because I have a high IQ, I have found ways to cope which have made me very high functioning- so while others with the same disorder might be crippled with fear, for me anxiety shows up as thinking ahead through multiple scenarios and having backup plans for my back up plans. I am very strategic in my thinking, I am always prepared, I always bring my A-game, and I push the limits of excellence in every thing I do. This is what the world sees. What people do not see is the crippling fear that drives everything I do- fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death, etc. and the associated anxiety that accompanies all those fears. Occasionally, I have the perfect storm in my life where it all gets too overwhelming for me and I would be in an internal state of despair and hopelessness even if I am functioning normally on the outside- a perfect example would be this very moment as I compose this blog albeit so eloquently and yet internally I am in a state of hopelessness.

Too many things beyond my control came at me so fast this week, my usual mechanism of being able to adapt with a backup plan failed and left me feeling helpless and hopeless. Today, I tried journaling to channel some of the thoughts running through my head at a mile a minute and when my writing could not keep up with my thoughts I just gave it up. In my despair, I picked up my bible and my readings took me to Isaiah 40 and verses 30 and 31 just leapt off the page at me:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31 NIV

Feeling hopeless and mentally drained, I saw the promise of strength in that scripture. But the promise comes with a caveat- to hope in the Lord. Huh? I am feeling hopeless and in order to get out of this state, I need to hope? If only it were that easy! So I asked God, I said “Well so what do I need to do to hope in you?” and as I waited impatiently for a response, the answer that came was definitely not what I was expecting. It was something like this:

A lot of times when we pray for or wish for something, we envision a certain outcome and we build our hopes and expectations around that outcome. For example when we pray to God for healing, our hope is built around the outcome that we would be healed and if we are healed then we are pleased that our “expectations have not been cut short”. But if the outcome is different from what we expect, we are disappointed and blame God, blame ourselves for not having faith enough or accept the outcome as something that should not be questioned or we blame others. The problem with this premise of hope is that hope is not predicated on outcomes. Hope is rooted in God, to be more specific in the unchangeable nature of God’s purpose. It is in God’s purpose for our lives that we find hope.

In the same way God, in His desire to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable nature of His purpose, intervened and guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things [His promise and His oath] in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled [to Him] for refuge would have strong encouragement  and indwelling strength to hold tightly to the hope set before us. This hope [this confident assurance] we have as an anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whatever pressure bears upon it]–a safe and steadfast hope that enters within the veil [of the heavenly temple, that most Holy Place in which the very presence of God dwells], where Jesus has entered [in advance] as a forerunner for us, having become a High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:17-20 AMP

Hope that is built on an expected outcome is not safe and steadfast hope because our desired outcomes may not always be God’s purpose for us which does not fail (Psalm 119:89). So for me to come back to a place of strong encouragement, indwelling strength and confident assurance on days like this, I need to simply trust that He is working everything out to fulfil His purpose for me regardless of my desired outcome. This is what it means to me to hope in the Lord (or wait on the Lord as some translations put it). And as I hope in God, He will restore my strength and transport me from the place of despair and hopelessness as He is doing now.

I leave you with this scripture as my prayer to God:

The LORD will work out his plans for my life [fulfill his purpose for me]— for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

Psalm 138: 8 NLT/ESV

Yours Truly

Advent Calendar day 21: Fear of the unknown

This year, I found myself in situations where I was afraid- afraid mainly of the outcomes of things that were beyond my control. What will the result of this medical test be? What will the result of this court case be? What will the result of this application for XYZ be? I was fearful that the outcomes would not be be what I wanted and would change everything. Today’s reading gives me a different perspective to situations that are beyond my control:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

What can power, love and self-discipline do for me when I am anxious about something I have no control over? I can declare boldly and with POWER, God’s supremacy over every situation. I can rest in the promise that because of God’s great LOVE for me, everything will work out for my good even if it does not “look” good. And finally, I can exercise SELF-CONTROL and wait for God to do what He does best in His time- He makes all things beautiful in its time. And the beauty of this is that all of this is possible because of God’s spirit at work in us. He has given us a spirit of POWER, LOVE and SELF-DISCIPLINE so that we can triumph on days such as ones that are filled with fear of the unknown.

Yours Truly

The big “V”

Vulnerability, the big V is something that you seldom see in churches. As far as I know…church leaders have never sinned in their lives! They never get discouraged…! They never feel like God has let them down…! Oh, and they do not get sick…! I grew up with this mentality of being a Christian and especially as one who was involved in church leadership. I always had to have it together and be well-composed especially for those who look up to me.

I recently listened to a TED talk by Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability and I will summarize what I learned and how I apply it to my walk with God.  From Brene’s research which spanned over a decade she discovered that:

We are hardwired  as humans for connection however, there is one thing that unravels connection in society and this is shame. Shame is simply a fear of disconnection. “Is there something about me that if people knew then i won’t be worthy of connection?” [This reminds me of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they sinned; they hid from the presence of God because they were filled with fear and shame].

Shame is universal and is underpinned by vulnerability. Vulnerability is not comfortable or excruciating but it is necessary, and yet people struggle with it so much. According to Brene, we deal with vulnerability by numbing the grief, the shame, the fear, the disappointment, but unfortunately, we are not wired to selectively numb some emotions and leave out others. When we numb all the bad stuff we also numb joy, happiness, peace. We make the uncertain certain- so religion which used to be “I believe in faith and mystery” becomes “I am right, you are wrong. shut up!” We pretend that everything is ok and that the things we do does not have an impact on others.

Through her research, Brene discovered another set of people: A group of people who live life wholeheartedly and have a strong sense of belonging. What she found that those people had in common were that they had courage (to be imperfect), compassion ( to be kind to themselves first, and then to others), connection (the willingness to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were) and finally vulnerability.

Brene discovered that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and unworthiness but it also is the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging,  and of love. After listening to this talk I wanted to see what the bible says about vulnerability and I was led to many scriptures but I will highlight a few:

  • 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
  • Romans 7:23-24
  • 2 Corinthians 13:4
  • James 5:16
  • 1 Corinthians 2:3-4
  • 2 Corinthians 11: 27-30
  • 2 Corinthians 4: 7

If you read those scriptures you will see a common trend. Vulnerability is about declaring our weakness before others and before God. This allows God’s grace to flow. When we are weak, we leave room for grace to pour in. I will take Brene’s conceptualization a little further to say vulnerability is the birthplace of grace. It is the portal that allows us to receive more of God’s grace in our lives.  I am reminded of a parable of Jesus:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. Luke 18:9-14 NIV

The pharisee would not allow himself to be vulnerable even in the place of prayer to take a hard long look at his life. And when you contrast the Pharisee with the tax collector, the tax collector encountered grace and was justified (for we are justified by grace through faith.. Romans 3:23-25). I believe Brene was on to something here: those things that bring us shame, fear of disconnection, and unworthiness in other words those things that make us vulnerable are the things that we need to be the most real about with ourselves (because you cannot lie to yourself), to God (because He knows all things) and to others (because vulnerability in the place of confession with prayer, brings healing)

I come broken to be mended
I come wounded to be healed
I come desperate to be rescued
I come empty to be filled
I come guilty to be pardoned
By the blood of Christ the Lamb
And I’m welcomed with open arms
Praise God, just as I am

Yours Truly.

P.S. you can listen to the Brene’s TEDtalk by clicking here