Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
We rush into the cancer clinic, running late as usual. (I knew we shouldn’t have stopped at Chik-fil-a.) Once we sign in, we find two seats as far away from others as possible. My mind races with tasks. The list includs reading two books, planning some lessons, making a few calls, and going to the bathroom (not necessarily in that order of importance).
Meanwhile, people fight for their lives in front of me. I reach into my bag for one of the books. Shannon hands me a magazine. Grateful for yet another distraction, I accept. Anything to keep my attention; anything to draw me away from all the brokenness. I stopped. Sit, Luke, I thought. Watch and take it in.
It’s not often we have hope illustrated right before us. First off, we’ve no need for the word until we’re first broken. Just like me at the clinic above, we’ll do whatever we can to avoid the “b” word. But we sing songs in church that proclaim the contrary. I remember one that goes like this: “brokenness, brokenness, is what I long for, brokenness, is what I need.” Thinking back on the many times I’ve religiously mouthed those words, I want to go back and shake myself and the others around me. Would we really sing it if we knew the prayer would be answered with the likes of disease and despair? Would you sing that song if the words went, “cancer-now, cancer-now, it’s what I long for, cancer-now, it’s what I need, cancer-now, cancer-now it’s what you want for me.”
A good friend of mine was diagnosed with skin cancer and was told he didn’t have long to live. He said when he sits in those cancer hospitals he witnesses exponentially more hope than on Sunday mornings: the folks being wheeled in on stretchers because their legs are toothpicks too frail to stand; the men and women with baseballs growing out of their faces; the just-diagnosed father sitting with his 16 year old son in his camouflaged hat, the man’s 12 year old daughter and loving wife of 20 years sitting across from him. The man’s parents, who’ve just drove miles into the city from the farm, never dreamed one of their children might beat them to the grave. All of them sitting, waiting on percentages. The exemplification of hope.
We won’t know hope until we’re broken, and much fun as it is to sing it, we really don’t want brokenness. The tragic reality, however, is that we’re already broken. We just won’t receive and enter. It makes me wonder about hope. Maybe it’s really something that only those who’ve accepted our human condition experience. After all, a life vest is only seen as a gift once the ship has sunk.
To quote Jose Ortega,
The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from fantasy and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost. Whoever accepts this has already begun to find himself to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic ruthless glance, absolutely sincere because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He, who does not really feel himself lost, is without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.
The sweetness and desperation of hope awaits only the wrecked. And so maybe it is good to ask for brokenness, nay, face it. When you do stand up from the pew to sing it, shake yourself first, and make sure you know what you’re asking for.