After the agony of suffering, tragedy, or grief strikes, we often receive what I’ve referred to as God’s anesthesia. Something akin to the gentleness of a fragile lady slipper cushions us. We move, undulating like fragile petals swayed by a spring breeze.We have moments or prolonged spaces, despite the best support systems, where we are painfully alone, a solitary blossom trying desperately to cling to the soil we’re in at the moment. Though the sun shines around us, chill air is what we feel.
However, as we attempt to move on, to find a new normal, we find ourselves in what novelist Susan Meissner calls “in-between places.” Her skillfully written novel features two women. Clara Wood is a nurse who witnessed a friend plummet to the sidewalk after jumping from the flames of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. She works on Ellis Island, never taking the ferry back to New York City. The contemporary (2011) female character, Taryn Michaels, has worked at a fabric shop since her husband died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, the day she headed into Manhattan to share with him the news of her first pregnancy.The events of this broken world that strike the soul can be identified in most cases. The resulting response, however, can leave some people living or merely existing without purpose or strength. Why do we sometimes get stuck in an in-between place? Meissner posits this idea: “Time ceases to have substance when you are flattened by despair.” That, my friends, is one powerful sentence!
Our culture uses the word depression more often than despair, but the connotation of the latter word gives a sense of utter hopelessness. A metamorphosis must occur so we are not flattened or consigned to remaining in some form of an in-between place. Let’s consider first the writings of two Old Testament writers.
After trying myriad forms of pleasure, intellectual pursuits, and power, King Solomon wrote, “So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair, over all the toil of my labors under the sun,” (Ecc 2.20 ESV)
Ezekiel, in describing God’s wrath in bringing about Israel’s coming destruction, wrote, “The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people are paralyzed by terror, (Ezek 7:27a ESV)
And, the Bible’s shortest verse, “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35 ESV) attests to our Lord’s anguish, despite the fact that He was about to raise His friend Lazarus from the dead.
Yet the apostle Paul comforts us with words that follow the most spectacular metamorphosis ever, the resurrection of Christ. Paul, describing all believers, offers this pure truth: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” (2 Cor 4:8-9 ESV)
The hope of this truth can, in God’s timing, move us out of the in-between spaces to places of peace, beauty, and growth.