Writing By Faith

Difficult Spaces


Spring is upon us and summer is fast approaching. The glowing faces of daffodils greet me on these longer days, while our pond is alive with the cacophony of a family of geese who have made a new home there. However, in the midst of this new life and energy, a friend is dying.

It’s a long, hard death, with no hope of recovery. Those who love him watch with trepidation as his health dwindles away. His body is slowly shutting down, and it won’t be long until he steps into eternity.

To be human is to know a perpetual mixture of joy and tragedy, hope and despair, laughter and tears. We all carry within ourselves memories of good times past and hopeful expectations for the future. We also carry trauma and scars from excruciating pain we have known, and the knowledge that the future is uncertain except for the fact that, in the end, we all die.

We have experienced much pain in these last years. COVID-19 has killed over one million fellow Americans, and millions more worldwide. Economic hardship is wreaking havoc on families. Crime rates are rising at home, and now we watch in horror as Ukrainian civilians are crushed under Russian bombs. Sometimes it seems the world is out of control. The trauma we feel is real.

What do we do with hard times? How do we process all the suffering to which we bear witness? What do we make of the pain and division in our families, our nation and our world?

Psychologist Nancy McWilliams observed that most Americans view the world through the lens of a problem to be solved. Faced with a challenge or difficulty, we set out in search of a quick fix that will resolve our problems, allowing everybody to live happily ever after. Too often this leaves us unable and unwilling to properly manage our grief and loss when faced with real tragedy, death or disappointment.

As we come into April, Christians are looking ahead to the services and celebrations of Holy Week. Beginning with the pageantry of Palm Sunday, it carries through the passion of Good Friday and resolves in the celebratory hope of Easter when we cry out, “He is Risen.”

Right before Easter, however, is Holy Saturday, a day that is often overlooked in our Easter preparations. Holy Saturday is the day we remember that Jesus, brutally executed by the State, lay dead inside his tomb. It is a day that feels like a disaster, a day of crushed hopes, dreams and ideals. Resurrection was unheard of; all hope seemed lost.

I suspect many of us are living in that space, whether we admit it or not. We don’t want to lose hope, we don’t want to give ourselves to grief, but life has been so hard lately. The space of Holy Saturday can be crushing as we find ourselves between doubt and wonder. Yes, we know the promises, and we’d like to still walk in hope, but life is tough and sometimes it seems like hope is lost.

There is another way of looking at the difficulties of life. Many cultures view these moments not as problems to be solved, but opportunities to find resilience, practice patience, and grow in our understanding of the deeper mysteries of life and faith. It’s easy to forget that, while the world is ready to jump ahead to Easter, for Jesus, the important work was being done in darkness on Holy Saturday.

If we pay attention, we find that there is meaning to be found in our difficulties. We all share commonality in our pain. In the hardest times, we learn the real value of friendship. We often discover the realities of evil that need to be resisted — racial injustice, economic inequality, and political gamesmanship, to name a few. We can learn resilience, finding courage and strength to endure.

It was in the darkness of the tomb that Jesus heard the voice of love, gently calling him back to life. My friend is dying, but I have faith that even in the darkness of this journey, he will hear that same gentle voice speaking words of hope and comfort. In our hardest moments, if we pay attention, we may all eventually hear the voice of love calling us to life again. We may not fix everything, but if we do our work, we will be stronger, richer, and more beautiful for taking this journey.

On behalf of the Lakebay Church and the KP Ministers Association, I wish you all a thoughtful, meaningful, life-affirming Easter and beyond.

Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.