Haunted by my past
As I heard the stories and passages in the Bible that talk about how God loves us and wants the best for us, I never refrained from hoping for a bright future. I was under the impression that if we prayed boldly for good things, God would always answer positively, and it would be amazing— especially if it seemed impossible.
But I know now that hope is so much more dangerous and risky than we’d like to believe.
Until I was 17, I spent my life merely surviving from one day to the next. I can’t think of one moment where someone had a meaningful and personal conversation with me as a child or teenager. I was invisible.
The relationships I did have were exploitative and traumatic. I had no way to escape my pain and loneliness. I spent a lot of my time hiding with a spiral notebook and sketching a better, but improbable, future. “Hope,” I called it. One day I’d be able to help others and make a difference in the world. One day I’d find a group of like-minded Christians and I’d learn what it meant to have a good community of friends.
When I moved to the University of Toronto in my first year, I realized this was my chance. It was a fresh start from the life I had grown to despise. It was a chance to learn how to change the world in ways that were important and long-lasting. It was time to go and discover who I was created to be—and to leave my past behind.
During my first few weeks at the UofT, I almost forgot how shy I was. I stood up for my convictions at theological debates and discussions. I found a Christian community who had similar convictions. I was eager to serve and be purposeful, and for the first time in my life I felt alive, rather than numb and barely living.
However, my new community demanded something of me that I wasn’t ready to process: my past.
It seemed my newfound courage wasn’t enough to secure my place with them. I was confused. I shrugged away the small changes I started to notice. Over time I stopped feeling encouraged by the people I looked up to, and instead started to feel betrayed, abandoned, targeted, judged, mocked, and rejected by the Christians I had grown to love. It was as if they no longer saw potential in me. Instead, they focused on my sins, my brokenness, and my perceived “stubbornness” to be vulnerable.
It was the end of my dreams. It was the destruction of my hope.
When hope is deferred
The experience was so jarring that it opened up wounds old and new. I felt my heart detach from those around me. My mind would slip into chaos, constantly debating whether these Christians were right about me, or if they didn’t have the best intentions towards me. The more I fought these warring thoughts, the more defeat, betrayal, and overwhelming grief I felt. Every day it got harder to eat, sleep, and even breathe.
One night I sat in my dorm room completely alone while my mind spiraled, repeating the mockery and criticisms that I could no longer keep at bay. I couldn’t be sure of anything anymore except that I was broken. I started to believe that that was all I was.
Perhaps this experience was especially traumatic because I had so much hope that one day I’d live purposefully and have a supportive community. I felt angry and betrayed by my fellow Christians, that they would break me for sport.
And I especially was angry at God, for placing me in this cruel situation. It was the opposite of what I had prayed for. It’s like the proverb: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” There was no other verse in my Bible that seemed relevant to me.
Is God good?
For the next year or so, I almost completely gave up on my faith. I grieved over the idea that maybe all along, God didn’t have a purpose for my life. Perhaps I was just caught in the crossfires of the work God was doing in the lives of other people. Perhaps I was just bending and forcing the circumstances around me to ease the desperation I’d felt in my childhood.
But is God someone who would deny our needs? Were we all just blindly trusting that God is good—perfectly good? And what if God didn’t love everyone? Surely I must be some sort of exception. I mean, how could a good God answer years of desperate prayers with something so traumatic and painful?
Questions like this waged on endlessly in my mind, consuming my time and destroying my sense of reality. It wasn’t until the end of my second year that I considered the facts before me:
- God exists. There cannot be any other logical explanation for the existence of the world.
- If God exists, then he must be all-powerful. To create the world and worlds beyond, infinite and mysterious, then God must also be infinite.
- If God exists and he is infinite, then he must also have an all-knowing mind. And to be all-knowing, he must be omni-present (in all places).
One by one I logically pieced together the attributes of God. Yet the only attribute that didn’t seem to be contingent on the others was whether or not God was good. God could either be infinitely powerful and all good, or infinitely powerful and all bad. There could be no in between, because all of God’s other attributes were all-encompassing. Why shouldn’t goodness be the same?
To really discover the answer to whether God is good or not, we need to examine the source that claims it—the Bible.
I imagined what it would be like if God was evil. People would have to accept every calamity that came their way. The thought completely terrified me. But why would God allow us to experience love, joy, adventure, and other good things if he were all bad?
Even in my devastation, I saw that there were glimmers of goodness in the world. So perhaps God was good, all good. Then he must care for all people, including someone like me.
At the moment when I finally realized this, I started to weep. Through my tears, a gentle voice whispered the words I had begged to hear: “You too. There is a purpose for you too.”
I started to realize that just because hurt was done to me by other Christians, it did not mean God approved of it. In fact, if he is all good, then he must’ve been angry and sad and disappointed with all of it. I needed to trust that, despite all the pain I have experienced, God is still good.
How idealistic is too idealistic?
In the midst of the wrestling and pain I was going through, some people around me said my hopes for change in the world were too idealistic. Others preached that my expectations for a good Christian community were too high. As much as I hated to think it was possible, I did ask myself, “Were my hopes too idealistic?” and “Why does it seem as though the word ‘idealism’ is synonymous with ‘foolishness’?” Could a girl like me, ignored and rejected by everyone in her life, even pray for a future so vastly different from the life she knew?
I finally concluded that it is too idealistic. But so what? I can’t think of one person in the Bible who didn’t pray something bold.
There’s Daniel who prayed God would guard him from a den of hungry lions, or King Hezekiah who pleaded with God to add more years to his life, though his death was imminent. Neither person accepted their fate, even when it seemed sealed and final. Instead, they prayed anyway, and dared to hope that God would hear them.
My prayers for friendship and to be someone who could cause long-lasting change may seem foolish. But I’ve learned that, however idealistic my hopes and prayers are for a just and good future, as a Christian I cannot be completely broken, because heaven is a place where idealism is the standard, not the exception.
How powerful is that? Even after death there is hope for the Christian.
It takes courage and faith to hope in things that seem impossible. I don’t mean we should cling to some abstract idea that we think will give us more joy than being in God’s presence. But I’m learning to hope that God will take whatever evil is done to us and use it for good.
That’s the beauty of praying bold prayers: we risk leaving ourselves completely at the mercy of God. On one hand, we risk the possibility that our hopes will be deferred or denied, but as we pray anyway, we’re really trusting that whatever happens, it will be for a good reason.
Perhaps my four years of undergrad were not meant to be the fulfilment of my hopes, and had I understood that sooner, I might’ve been saved from the depths of my heartbreak.
Continue to hope
In my last year of undergrad, I started to pray about what God would have me do after graduation and I’ve decided to go on missions abroad. But honestly? A part of me is terrified that I’ll be rejected again by other Christians. Yet I still have hope. I do not hope with the naive optimism that I once had, but now I hope that whatever happens, good or bad, God will still have a purpose for me.
I still hope because I am drawn to some future greater than myself. I could either remain in my fear and never experience the fruition of my hopes, or I could muster the courage I have left to try again.
The proverb “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” isn’t the complete verse. The rest of it reads “and longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul.” Hope is dangerous, because we risk immense pain and grief if it were to be crushed or delayed, but on the other hand, its fulfillment will be sweet to the soul.
Whenever and however God chooses to answer my prayers, it will be that much sweeter, because I will have waited earnestly for something good. And because when God answers, he answers perfectly.
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