I slid the book across the table to her wrapped in a big bright red bow. The words “My Name is Hope” were engraved on the gray cover in black. I thought the bow would be a nice touch to the otherwise gloomy-looking exterior, as if to show that hope is actually something that can be packaged prettily and then set down in our hands.
She had just finished telling me three days before about the emptiness that had creeped into her gut and made a home recently. Despite a schedule full to the brim with coffee dates and time spent with people, she felt alone. She felt exhausted at the end of the day. Every day.
“I haven’t told anyone this yet, because I’m afraid to say it out loud. I’m afraid to say the word. But, I think…I’m depressed.” She looked terrified. The space between us in that moment was precious space. She had just scraped together all of the courage she could muster from every piece of her body and had gathered just enough to emotionally strip down in front of me, naked and vulnerable, and now I was left with the choice to fill that space with either love and life and hope, or not.
Before I said anything back to her, I thanked God for that space because I knew all too well the sweaty palms, heart-racing moment when you make the decision to breathe life into a thought that has occupied your head far too long without being uttered out loud, secured tightly by the fear that saying it to someone might make it true. I thanked God that she chose me to drop the facade of “everything is great” with. She was afraid of seeming weak, but her vulnerability left her looking staggeringly strong in my eyes.
I started recounting my own journey through depression, months of struggling to get out of bed. Painful memories of driving down the road and contemplating jerking the steering wheel towards the median. Overwhelming numbness, constant and brutal. Color and joy sucked out of life like a vacuum, leaving me as nothing more than a shell of a once vibrant and loving person.
“As someone who has made it out to the other side, I want you to know that there is hope. This season isn’t a forever season. If you leave with nothing else, please leave knowing there is hope” I told her. As I said it, I thought about the beauty of my life in this current season. The joy I know and now feel so deeply all because of the important lessons I learned during my season of depression. I continued thinking about it as I got in the car to return home. With the radio silent, I listened to rain splatting against my windshield and came to an important realization. Hope isn’t always a pretty packaged thing. It isn’t a book wrapped up sweetly in a red bow. It isn’t a series of wonderful events leading to a culminating “everything makes sense now” moment. Hope doesn’t always look so beautiful on the outside. In fact, the greatest gift of hope this world has ever seen came to us in the form of a man nailed to a cross, bloody, beaten, and mutilated.
Hope is not this delicate, beautiful thing we hold in our hands. It isn’t a book title or a twelve step program. Hope is hard. It takes grit and guts and all you’ve got. It can look like trudging knee-deep through the mud and the mess of life, oh so slowly, for days or months or years at a time. It can feel like walking through the thick of the forest in the midst of heavy fog without any idea as to where the forest ends or when the fog will clear.
The thing about hope is that it is always paired with uncertainty. We live our lives with stores of questions buried deep in every crevice of our souls and our hearts ache for answers. We like being in control. We like knowing the intimate details about the times and places and seasons when life is going to turn for the worst and when it’s going to start looking up again. But hope isn’t neat like that. It isn’t a magic 8 ball that we shake and suddenly have all of the answers. It isn’t a white piece of paper with our life’s greatest triumphs and struggles detailed in black ink on it. Hope looks like a (sometimes messy, oftentimes hard) process of trusting in an unknown outcome, but choosing to believe that the outcome will be good.
This hope thing is truly beautiful, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. You think it takes courage to admit that you’re depressed? You think it takes courage to break up with your boyfriend in order to focus on healing from your past? You think it takes courage to be different than the rest of the world? It does. But it takes even more courage to have hope. One of the bravest things we can ever do is step into the unknown, look uncertainty dead in the eye, and choose to have hope.
Sweet friend, this is my encouragement to you tonight: In the midst of question marks, of vulnerability and pain and ugliness- muster up the strength to be the brave one who isn’t afraid of process that is messy and tough. Have courage, have hope.