Monday Musings…. When Hope Seems Lost

I recently finished watching the heart wrenching documentary of The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann. A young three-year girl was taken in the evening by an unknown assailant on May 3rd, 2007, while on holiday with her family in Portugal. The child has never been recovered. Multiple leads have been followed, suspects have been questioned (including the child’s parents), and yet the various European investors and investigators continue to believe the little girl will be found. A crime of this nature makes us, even though we are remote observers, intensely interested in understanding how can the parents hold on, when hope seems to be slipping away with each passing day, week, month, and year.

Hope is an interesting concept. It is not a physically tangible entity, and yet you hold on to it, as a literal life line with a solid conviction that things will turn out. You liken life then, to a Hollywood movie, where sitting on the edge of your seat, you wait with suspense until…. the plot wraps up nicely in the end. Your mind repeatedly tells you everything is going to be ok….and it is…in a movie. But your life and mine, and the McCann’s, is not a made-up script that a famous screenplay writer composed. Knowing that, you need to realize that you too cannot write your own story, though I have heard that maxim spouted so many times. If that were true, then we all would be free from pain, suffering, loneliness, fear, and doubt.

The reality is that life is full of unplanned and often devastating events. While you may like to believe that you are in control of your life, in a moment everything can change. What you thought was the right decision, or the right timing, or simply just living rightly, matters very little when your life takes an unexpected turn. It is natural for despair to come over someone when that happens; like a cloak of fog and darkness, misery envelopes and settles in around the person.

When you’ve been down or deeply discouraged, you may hear these words: “Just have faith that things will work out.” “Just trust that the best outcome will happen.” “Tomorrow will be a better day.” If your pain is bearable, you may in fact believe that the fog will lift. “I know I can get through this,” you might say to yourself as you push ahead. But if the emotional or physical pain of your situation doesn’t let up, and no matter what you try to do your circumstances are not changing, then these words are a tough remedy to swallow. You know the person means well, but what it really does is make you feel guilty for feeling discouraged and weak and wanting to give up. The word ‘just’ minimizes the depth of your suffering and implies that that you haven’t had faith or trust, because if you had, then you wouldn’t look or feel so downtrodden. And the biggest issue is when, whatever you are going through, continues day after day, month after month, week after week, and year after year. Disappointment and despair develop until it feels like you can no longer bear it.

What makes it so difficult in these situations is that, you want proof and absolute certainty that their well-meaning words of hope are true - that their will be a happy Hollywood ending; especially when it seems impossible. You likely have held those words tightly to your chest, closed your eyes, and perhaps even prayed that things would change, only to face another day, week, month, or year of disappointment. In these times, hope seems to be lost.

Are the McCann’s then an enigma? Are they super human? Which one of us could withstand the nightmare they are living? They’ve been subjected to relentless judgment and criticism, false leads and each time coming up empty, and yet they remain as a united front. They are statistical outliers, as most marriages would have dissolved under this pressure. But they stand, resolute, and perpetually hopeful they will be reunited with their daughter. It is their hope we want to understand.

There are two lessons I think we can take from observing Kate and Gerry McCann. First, that when your hope is slipping, you need to know you are not alone in your fear, pain, and suffering. This is not saying that helpful people should compare their plights with yours. No, it’s the fact that these individuals are willing to bear the weight of the suffering with you, whatever that entails. They validate your pain, listen, and help in practical ways. Secondly, hope seems lost when your suffering doesn’t seem to ever end. So, each one of us needs people who are willing to walk the journey with us, even if it takes over a decade like the McCann’s. These people are not what we call ‘fair weather friends’, who stay only as long as it is convenient or popular, but rather they are there to support in whatever ways they can, for however long it takes. You may think that these people don’t exist. They do. The McCann’s are surrounded by them.

So, here’s my final thought – maybe you, the reader, are at a good spot in your life. As I wrote last week, keep your eyes open, to see if you can help bear the burden of someone who is struggling. And just don’t stop with one phone call of inquiry. Make an intentional connection. You are needed as that tangible lifeline. Life does take faith and trust, but also someone who will help carry your burdens for as long as it takes. With these ingredients, hope can be restored and the cloak of despair lifted, even if it is for a moment.

As Tenth Avenue North sings: "In the flood or the fire, You are with me, you won't let go." This is how to have hope in the depths of your soul.

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