I have not been able to write for so long because I have needed to write this post, and it took a lot of simmering before it came to a boil. I put it here as an offering, I pray it gives you hope.
Anyone who has ever experienced infertility can tell you it is it's own version of hell. Our first experience of infertility lasted for over three years. Never before had I experienced such depths of despair and hopelessness. Each month we would wait expectantly for good news, and with each disappointment we felt our hope crushed. How true it is that hope deferred makes the heart sick. And I was - heart-sick that is. I had to battle jealousy, rage, depression, exhaustion - the waiting felt endless. The questions of "Why?" or "Why not me?' or "What is wrong? What don't we know? How can we fix it? Can we fix it? Will it ever end? Will it end how I want it to end?"
The unknowns can drive a person mad. To feel completely out of control with something that should just happen - that should be easy and natural. And to hold it in for the shame, the fear. The avoidance of the label "infertile" - the hope it will just go away or miraculously resolve.
With each passing month a cycle of despair threatened to overtake me. The desire to give up, to stop hoping, to close my heart, to curse God...the pull got stronger and stronger the longer we had to endure.
But this is not a post about infertility.
It is a post about worship.
You see, I have been in many conversations over the last few years about worship (and I am referring to corporate times of worship) - and I see a trend that makes me wary. I regularly hear people proclaim with a certain level of pride, "I just can't stand worship music." Or the critique that it is all too sentimental, or upbeat, or forced. It isn't somber enough, it feels trite to make certain claims about God, and what if I don't believe any of that stuff right now or I don't feel like singing it. And along with that, in many ways it has become cool to mock worship music as just so unenlightened or lame.
But I can tell you - worship has saved my life over and over and over again.
Sounds dramatic, I know - but it is true. That cycle of despair that threatened to overtake me - it was not reason that saved me, or positive thinking, or reading the right books, or having enough information, or having the right conversation...all of those things were helpful in their own right - but none kept me from leaping into the abyss that beckoned me.
The only thing that kept me from succumbing to despair was worship. Each week I would drag myself to church (and over those three years we were at a variety of churches), and I would enter wondering how I would get through - how I could praise God when my heart felt so crushed, when the body He gave me felt as if it betrayed me, when there were no answers or reasons, when there was no end in sight...how I could possibly lift up my eyes and raise my voice to the Creator of all things seen and unseen...
And yet I did. Not always completely heartfelt at first - but defiantly I stood in the face of despair, and hopelessness, and hurt, and sorrow, and barrenness - and declared the goodness of God. Even when this goodness felt hidden from me - and even when the song felt sentimental, or lame, or out of touch - I clung to what it declared about this God - this One who loves me, who gave all things for me, who is not withholding, in whom there is no shadow...
And there was grace for another day, another week, another month, another year. There was hope that did not make sense - hope in something beyond my hopes. I came into the company of saints - the called out ones - and proclaimed what was true - whether I felt it or not.
You see, we all have our cycles of despair that beckon to us. They call us to give up hope, to throw in the towel, to succumb to cynicism and mockery. To fold our arms and refuse to declare anything. To set ourselves apart - to be above it all. To wallow and demand and throw stones.
For me it has been infertility. For you it may be a job, or unemployment, or your family situation, or singleness, or marriage, or divorce, or hurt from a past church, or exclusion from a group, or loneliness, or physical ailment...the possibilities are endless.
Despair seeks us out - calls to us - lures us in. There is comfort in the cycle...you do not have to hope any longer. No need to wait expectantly. No need to believe and trust in goodness. No need to surrender. No need. Let that hope calcify - let that heart become stone. It is easier that way.
But let's get real here - as much as worship music may fall short - cynicism never saved anyone. No one. It offers no hope, no perspective, no freedom, no love, no joy. It is simply protection...because hope deferred makes us heart-sick. And it feels too much to bear at times. And raising our eyes and our voices to our Creator feels impossible.
And yet we must. Yes, we need our worship experiences to be rich and complex. We need lament and we need rejoicing. But more than anything we need to remember that God is God - and we are not. And at some point we will either put our hope in God (even when we are out of control and do not understand and feel so downtrodden that it is unbearable) or we bury our hope in the ground of despair.
I can appreciate the critique needed to make something better or more lovely - but if we stand apart and throw stones because we dare not declare God's goodness unless it is worded and caveated precisely to our liking, then we merely tear down (and we often take others down with us because misery does love company).
To sing God's praises among the saints in the midst of pain - this is defiant. It is charging right up to the gates of hell and declaring victory. It is brave and courageous and outlandish hope. It reminds us that our current sufferings are not the most true thing about us or the world. God is writing a much bigger story - and while our suffering is true and it hurts like hell - Jesus has overcome even this.
And so we wait in hope...and we declare God's goodness...and we defiantly worship at the gates of hell knowing that they don't stand a chance.