Most of us have experienced times when stories of other people’s victories leave us feeling angry or resentful instead of encouraged. Deep inside we have questions like, “Why doesn’t that happen for me?” “Why do my prayers seem to go unanswered?” We may even find ourselves avoiding their stories because they leave us feeling empty and alone. If this is where you are right now you’ve likely kept it hidden thinking that you shouldn’t feel this way and besides, you’re tired of hearing “easy” answers that don’t change anything. Ironically, the only meaningful answers begin where you are, not where you pretend to be. For the truth about hope is that it is usually discovered only when hope is lost. But to admit to losing hope is so frightening that we usually prefer staying hidden.
What if the answer is feeling the anger and the fear and discovering the true “cry out” within me? What if crying out is the very thing that brings you and me to a place of vulnerable need … at the feet of the very God by whom you’ve felt abandoned? Admitting to my struggling faith does not separate me from God; it is the pretending that I have none that does.
It is said there was an ancient custom in Nepal that if a man loses something precious to him the rest of the tribe comes together, enters his home and takes something else from him as well. Through centuries this custom was lost to most and thought of as cruel and barbaric to others who did not understand its origin. One day a man, who was an old resident from that tribe, white haired but full of wisdom was found and asked about the strange custom. He said his ancestors many generations ago had been true to pass down the secret of their tradition and its blessing through their family and he explained the mystery as follows.
“Take this small piece of bread in one hand and this grain in the other. Hold them out to be seen. If suddenly the precious grain is stripped from the one hand, the other hand clenches tightly around the bread to make sure he does not lose it. There stands the man cursing this one hand that has lost his treasure bringing shame upon his whole family while his other hand grips the bread tightly to ensure he keeps what little he has left. With clenched fist he threatens anyone who would get close enough to take away what is rightfully his. What does he look like now? A man staring through eyes of suspicion at anyone who approaches him. A man cursing his misfortune, his shriveled hand, and the many others he has learned to blame. This man crushes the hope of others in need and mutilates the bread in that same fist. The blessing to this ancient custom can only now be understood.
When a precious loss occurs, the other hand clings to what is left and the heart becomes either lifeless or closed. When the tribe and their chief came to his house and emptied the other hand the man fell to the ground in anguish with open hands … open hands now able to receive … to receive from all the other tribe members who had experienced loss before him. While the man with open hands, on his knees, blinded with tears was without strength the fellow tribe people passed by filling his hands with baskets of bread, grain, jars of oil, tools for repairing, stones for a fireplace, carved shingles for a roof, and a place in their midst to call home. Yes what he had was taken away so he had room in his hands and his heart to receive abundance.”
When you and I pretend not to struggle we close our hearts from being known and conceal our suspicion of God. Leave behind the “easy answers” and step into the ones we usually resist: voicing our angst to someone we trust and to wrestle with God. If we do, we may walk with a limp but we may experience the mystery of healing.