Every time we come to a new year, I wonder what it will hold. In the past few years, though, I’ve noticed that my gazes into the future have been tinged more with dread than anticipation. For me, and maybe for you, the last number of years have been incredibly difficult. Along with my own challenges in figuring out how to live with fibromyalgia, someone very close to me has experienced extreme and prolonged adverse physical and mental health.
At times, it seemed as though every step forward led to two steps back, and the little hopes that came with each little improvement would be ripped away with each subsequent setback. So much so, that, though it took me a while to realize it, I began to develop a wall of protection around my heart against one specific invader: hope. The things I had been hoping and praying for - healing, relief, resolution, rest - seemed so elusive that hoping in them felt like an exercise in futility. Even more than that, it often felt like God Himself was giving these little carrots of promise, only to yank them away. The phrase I’ve used in describing the experience to others was that it felt like God was “pulling the rug out from underneath me”. If you haven’t heard the phrase before, it refers to the experience of having some good thing or some foundation you thought was sure suddenly taken away from you without warning.
The fact that I was exhausted didn’t help the situation. More often than not, I had prayer times that were distracted or full of drowsiness. The pains I was feeling that I would normally work through with God were remaining largely unaddressed, simply because my capacity for recollection was so poor. I knew He must have something to say about the “rug pull”, but I felt like He was largely silent on the issue.
Since I’m a Consecrated Virgin, I go on an extended silent retreat each year to spend some dedicated time with the Lord, but for several reasons (COVID and family situation among them), that didn’t happen for three years. Finally, when I was able to arrange a retreat courtesy of a wonderful order of Sisters, and under the direction of a truly wonderful Jesuit priest friend, I had a strong sense that the Lord wanted to specifically address this rug pull. That retreat contained so many profound graces from the Lord, one of which stands out. I was praying in the Ignatian imaginative style of prayer with the resurrection narrative and was walking with Mary Magdalene to the tomb early on Easter morning. As we got to the tomb, I saw Mary stop short and suck in her breath sharply. It was because she saw the stone rolled away. It was her rug pull moment - what she thought was the reality was suddenly not. Very suddenly, she had to contend with the reality (as she thought it must be according to the scriptures) that Jesus’ body had been taken. She didn’t know what the big picture was in that moment. But I did. I knew He was alive. In that encounter, Jesus showed me the reality of my rug pull moments: that, though I can’t see the wider picture in those times, He is alive and already at work. That is the truest reality in the moments when I feel like some good thing has been wrestled from my grasp and my hopes have been dashed.
Jesus didn’t even stop there. He showed me in such a gentle way that the things I had been placing my hope in had been people and circumstances. I hadn’t been placing my hope in Him. He was asking me to stop finding my hope in the little steps forward or the plans I was convinced needed to become reality, but to place my hope in Him as the one who, according to my favourite scripture passage, “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). In light of this word from Jesus, there has been a new freedom to hope, because He has shown me that there is no possibility for the rug to be pulled when I place my hope in Him instead of in circumstances. I can always hope in the goodness of the big picture that exists for me and trust that He is bringing it about.
I still experience the kind of situations that I would previously have described as rug pull moments (quite frequently, to be honest!), but there is a new peace that comes when I remember what it was like to stand at that tomb with Mary. I continue to go back to those graces that the Lord has given whenever I need to remember what it means to hope in Him. In this new year, I find myself looking forward to the future in ways that had been temporarily lost to me, and I am so grateful to Him for that gift.
Even though our experiences of hope and dashed hope are as varied as the people on the planet, this is sure: the Lord desires freedom for us. He has a word to speak to each of us about His trustworthiness. He knows the pains we experience that impede our ability to hope in Him, and He also knows exactly how to address those roots, which may or may not involve taking the actual source of the pain away. Sometimes, freedom comes in the form of a deeper knowing that He is present and working “for the good in all things”.
Regardless of where you find yourself now, whether hope comes easily or you’re dealing with rug pulls, the Lord has a word for you. Especially for those who are struggling with hope in this time, know that I’m praying for you.