Back in December when I was about to share our sad and surprising news with a good friend via long-distance call, I had no idea that she would also be telling me of her own family’s challenging news. While her situation is vastly different from mine, we both felt surprised and confused.
It struck me powerfully that we both struggled in our own ways to hope for ourselves, but we also both felt tremendous hope for the other in her situation. I could clearly see good ways forward for my friend, but was needing to “piggyback” on the faith and hope of friends for me.
My friend sent me this little statue soon after our conversation. In the note, she included a few verses from the Bible, including this prayer that St. Paul prayed almost two thousand years ago (and many people have prayed since): May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15) I wrote it on a sticky note which I stuck on the side of the fridge to remind me of her prayer for me, and to remind me to keep praying it for myself. “The God of hope”, “all joy and peace in believing”, “abounding in hope” are such beautiful and full-bodied images. I know many people have been praying for me, and I’m thankful these prayers are being answered!
When I saw the statue, I immediately thought of a line from the song (that we used to occasionally sing in church) below: I will hold the Christ-light for you… and I realized with deep gratitude that is precisely what a number of my friends were doing for me, with their prayers, words and actions.
The Servant Song by Richard Gillard
1. Brother, sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant too.
2. We are pilgrims on a journey, we’re together on the road
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
3. I will hold the Christ-light for you, in the night-time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.
4. I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow, till we’ve seen this journey through.
5. When we sing to God in heaven, we will find such harmony;
Born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.
6. Repeat v. 1, singing ‘Sister, brother…’
Copyright 1977 Scripture in Song. Used by permission.
There are times when we need people to lend a hand to help us carry our load. Then there are times when we need people to simply carry it for us. That’s how I felt early on with my diagnosis. I needed people to hope for me and to help me to hope, because my hope was flickering dimly at that time. I needed people to pray for me, because praying was very hard at that time. My prayers were often brief heart-felt cries, pleas, groans, wordless yearnings, tears. I took comfort in the (sometimes brutally) honest prayers recorded in the Bible (e.g. Jeremiah, the Psalms). Knowing that friends were praying: not just for me, but actually on my behalf, made such a difference.
Here are a few lines from a Bruce Cockburn song that also speaks to the support of friends. How important it is to have friends who lovingly speak truth to us: who help us remember what is real and cling to what is true …
I’ve been scraping little shavings off my ration of light
And I’ve formed it into a ball, and each time I pack a bit more onto it
I make a bowl of my hands and I scoop it from its secret cache
Under a loose board in the floor
And I blow across it and I send it to you
Against those moments when
The darkness blows under your door
Isn’t that what friends are for?
– from Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu (1999)
A number of friends have helped bolster my hope in various ways. For this I am so grateful. My desire is that I will travel this journey through the valley not just with gratitude, but also with hopeful realism. Hope is a significant ingredient I’ve been reflecting on quite a bit lately, and may ramble about more later!