Why hope matters

Depression comes in many varieties.

There’s the subtle type that most of us deal with off and on, a slight melancholy that hits us throughout the day for different reasons and passes quickly.

There’s the all-consuming experience of panic, which can make you absolutely desperate and tempt you to make drastic choices for any kind of relief.

There’s also a kind of depression that sucks out life and makes you a shell of your former self, robbing the fullness of who you are.

I typically love to write and identify myself, in part, as a writer, but I’ve been going through my longest dry spell for several years – I just have had no desire to say anything and struggle to motivate myself to do so, telling me that I’m dealing with this life-sucking form of depression.

Writing is usually an outlet and source of relief, but I’m having to force myself to write these words.  I’ve been writing this incredibly slowly in fits and starts over several months.

It’s taken all I have just to be able to wake up, get out of bed and drag myself to work.  Basic survival has been my baseline for a very long time now, as I find it hard to see any silver lining in my future.

I feel like this political moment in Western society has resulted in the American Evangelical church abandoning its devotion to Christ for an idolatry to Caesar it doesn’t recognize, and in so doing I don’t feel like I relate to many of my fellow Christians anymore.

I know Christ wouldn’t have me leave the Church, but it’s felt like the Church is leaving Christ, and I haven’t known what to do with that.

My love life is a bit of a shambles I won’t go into detail about, but loneliness continues to dog me, and the despair of growing old and dying alone haunts me.

I’m writing and sharing all this in an effort to choose to continue to hope even when I don’t feel any.

I’ve been thinking about hope a lot lately, as, ultimately, a root definition of depression is a loss of hope.

As we all traverse this unique and difficult social situation and health pandemic, I imagine many of us are dealing with similar feelings.

Much like love, I think hope is at its heart – contrary to popular belief – a choice more than a feeling.  And just like St. Paul affirms us in his first letter to the Corinthian church, along with faith, love and hope are ultimately what lasts.

I think they are what mark us as human.

It’s tempting when one despairs to give into nihilism and self-destruction.  When one doesn’t actually feel any hope, there’s an animal instinct within each of us that tempts us to give into base urges.

Because part of being human is being animal, and when we lose all hope, we can convince ourselves that there is no meaning beyond the moment, and giving into our animal impulses and grabbing what little fulfillment we can is the only thing worthwhile we can do.

I’ve been there.  In many ways, I’m still there during this difficult season.  But I know better than that in my heart, as I argue that – deep down – each one of us does, too: that there’s more to being human than that.

That love is real.

And when we choose to hold onto hope, even when we don’t feel it, we are clinging to what it truly means to be wholly human – the animal married with the spiritual, the amalgamation of the physical and temporal with the eternal.

Hope keeps us tethered to ultimate reality beyond surface appearances.  It reminds us that there are things worth loving, things worth fighting for, things worth dying for.

Our lives are more than just deterministic loops, than the sum products of what the chemicals in our brain induce us to do and be.

We prove this by holding onto hope despite all else – when our feelings and our perceptions of our circumstances tell us to give up, but we choose to persist.

But of course our hope is only as valuable as the thing we put our hope in: many of us hope in the wrong things, and we find ourselves shattered when those things, when those people, fail us.

That’s why for the Christian, there is truly only One Hope, Christ Himself.  People fail.  The Church fails.  By appearances, it often looks as if God fails.

But our hope is that, by entering into our existence with us and sharing in our experiences, in our sufferings, in our laughter and in our tears, Christ has begun to reconcile all the brokenness we see around us with a God who by his Triune nature is the Source and Origin of love – that, while we can’t explain so much about life and the pain we suffer and the tragedies that befall us, we know God feels it in solidarity through Christ and is working to redeem it all, so that one day there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more death.

That is the hope that I imperfectly cling to.

And that is the hope that will carry us all through.

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