A Flickering Candle In A Darkening World   11 comments

I was washing dishes in the kitchen yesterday and thinking.  My mind follows me everywhere and won’t shut up.  Suddenly I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach as I reflected on a political article I had been reading.  The current state of civic engagement in America is deeply disturbing to me, but what drives the stake into my heart is the entrenched position of my own people, the church… at least that part of the church I have always called home spiritually.  It feels to me like our world is careening around hairpin turns in the dark and the headlights just died.  This is not going to end well.  And leaning against the sink with dripping hands I realized another huge source of my depression.

I have known for many years that my personal sense of failure drove me into a deep depression.  I gave it everything I had and just couldn’t make it work: the overwhelming poverty of India mocked my attempts to help.  It is a great blow to realize your life is meaningless in the greater scheme of things, that your world, even your small corner of the world, will go on as it always has with or without you.  Still, though I wasn’t making a difference, someone was making a difference.  I had lost all hope for my own personal relevance, but I knew that the good side would win.

Then I slowly realized my pointless life was not in contrast to the overall progress of the world, but was a microcosm of it.  All the good in the world–the huge, sacrificial efforts of selfless people–did not and could not ever reverse the direction of this tragic human story.  Suffering is alleviated and evil stopped in small back eddies of history, but the world as a whole flows on in its destructive ways.

At some point in my own journey I finally understood that the positive, upbeat message on which I was raised was a false narrative that we told each other to keep us fighting a losing battle.  Against all the evolutionary optimism of my culture, the world would never be a better place, and there was nothing any of us could do to change that.  One war would succeed another, today’s tyrant would rise on the ashes of yesterday’s, a new disease would always spring up to laugh in the face of all our medical advances.  We were doomed to play violins on the deck of our sinking Titanic.  I was not just a failure in my own small sphere, but my story was one line in a great tragedy. My impotence was a small, dark reminder of the miserable whole.  I was not simply hopeless about myself, I was hopeless about the entire world.

I’m not suggesting we should stop playing our violins.  If we are all going down, perhaps we can bring some small comfort to face the disaster.  But if we hope that our stringed ensemble will keep the ship from sinking, we set ourselves up for repeated disappointment, and despair at last.  We will either strum more and more violently trying to drive back the rising waves or we will pretend the ship is fine and turn a deaf ear to the cries around us.  In a crazy way I found hope in hopelessness yesterday.  Sweeping away false hope clears a space for realistic hope.

It is not useless to adopt one mangy mutt from a city full of strays, give one store clerk a smile in her long, harsh day, clarify a point for one person on a website crowded with dissenters.  It is no small thing to bring laughter to a child’s cancer ward, to give a sandwich to a man three days hungry, to hold the hand of a mother whose son was killed in Iraq.  Perhaps I cannot cure Alzheimer’s, but I can listen lovingly to the same story repeated for the fourth time.

We have violins, let us play them.


Posted April 9, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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11 responses to “A Flickering Candle In A Darkening World

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  1. I found the ending of HBO’s True Detective to be a resounding payoff to a show that at times had me in despair and worse. It echoed your sentiment above and is worth a view (it can be accessed online for free if one is determined enough). There is a value to “endeavoring to perservere”. Sometimes Sisyphus makes it to the top of the hill.

    • Do I need to watch the whole HBO series to find the ending meaningful? I think for every hill we crest, another 10 lie beyond. I’ll settle for not getting crushed.

      • I’ve turned several people on to this show, and think that the journey is worth the finale. I suspect that it heightens the moment’s power to view the prior 7 hours and 59 minutes. 🙂

  2. My goodness, this post uplifted me today. Thank you for posting!

  3. Raising teenagers that have lived through divorce is definitely a daily reminder of how broken our world is. I feel like a failure most of the time. I cannot make up for the hurt they have felt… nor replace the mother they lost. My very presence seems a reminder of how unfair their life has been and it is hard not to despair. I see the world they live in and the fact that they are not promised a “better life” than we have – they almost seem to be promised the opposite. I see their friends suffer. I see the school system… I see the unrealistic lectures they hear from well-meaning church folk or family. I see them reject the only source of true joy I have found after 37 years of struggling. And I remember that I have a Savior who found me worth dying for in a dying world full of rejection and despair. I have to remember at the end of the day that He loves them more than I do. That my grief is only a small reflection of His – but still, He came. And I am thankful. And I make dinner and save every smile and second helping as a reminder that these little things do matter. Every hug or request for help or temper tantrum is all a sign that they know someone cares – even when their way of confirming it is to test our response to the evilness of the world they live in.
    I get it and I don’t. I cannot save them. I never could. I never will. But, I can love them. My small corner.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Christina. I can’t imagine how much more difficult the harshness of the world would be if I had children being broken by it. May you find grace to help in time of need.

  4. How my heart goes out to you–all day every day. And to the Lord on your behalf. As the Cross and Easter lie just before us, how I rejoice in your strong faith affirmation. Hallelujah! He is risen!

  5. Insightful Janathan / Kent !!

    Pat Bobs Brother Major

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