I’m not a farmer, but I once attempted to be one as the guest of a self-sustaining community. The group lived together in dormitories, eating their meals together as a family. They grew most of the food they consumed and raised cattle for milk and meat. During my stay, I performed a number of barnyard chores, from shoveling dung to taking the old cow on her morning walk around the property—leash and all!
Imagine you’re a Jewish child, nourished from a young age by the words of the Torah. You can recite the Torah’s opening lines describing how, just before the dawn of God’s magnificent acts of creation, darkness covered the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Those mysterious words signaled that something stunning was about to happen. God was doing something new. You’d hear the story of that first day of creation, the inauguration of God’s creation week when He said, “Let there be light”—and light flooded the earth (John 20:3). Adam and Eve in the garden, beginning the great adventure of human life. What stunning possibilities, what hope! You would know well this story—the story of how God’s new world began to flourish.
You have to stick with that movie, even when it gets rough.” My friend pulled The Shawshank Redemption from the DVD player as he spoke. “The rough stuff is what makes the ending so hopeful.”
Jordan is a third-generation farmer who is taking over his father’s apple orchards. Recently we were talking about all the agricultural metaphors in the Bible. “On the farm, I learn so many spiritual lessons,” he said. As we conversed further, we discussed John 12:24—in which Jesus talks about the harvest that results from a single seed being buried in the ground. The wisdom found in that verse was encouraging, because during that season of life I was feeling emotionally dead—like a seed buried in the ground.
My sister promised to meet up with a friend later in the month. But when that day came, it landed with a “thud” at the end of an unusually hectic workweek. Her body protested: Head home! Rest! Meet your friend another day. Her conscience, however, called out: Honor your promise!
We introduced our sons to the TV series Lost in which marooned passengers from a crashed jetliner try to survive on a mysterious island. It didn’t take long for our boys to start to groan at the end of each episode, aware of how masterful the writers were at creating cliffhangers. There appears to be no ending, only a series of new beginnings.
“When you hear the hard news, there are two diverging roads from which to choose. One’s despair—don’t go there. There is hope!” I wrote those lyrics as part of a song that shares what I’ve learned through a lengthy battle with cancer. Today I was talking with a thirty-year-old husband whose wife just found out she has breast cancer. As I strived to give him comfort and counsel, what I shared can be summed up in these words: Because of God, there is hope.
Friends often remind me, “You’re not alone.” “God is with you,” they say. “Yes,” I answer. “He is.” Yet there are times—mostly when I’m pressed to accomplish a daunting task without anyone physically present to help me, or when I’m alone for extended periods of time—that I wonder, “Is God here with me?” And, if so, “What does His presence truly mean?”
For two and a half years, a visit to my wife’s oncologist was part of our weekly routine. But one visit was different. In a discernably subdued tone, he told us that he was going to stop her treatment. The chemo was no longer effective. My wife had come to the final stage of her fight against a fast-growing, aggressive cancer.
A mere half-hour watching the news today can fill one with despair as we witness the effects of greed, selfishness, and depravity. It pains the heart to see the utter devastation of the downtrodden. As we take in such brokenness it can lead us to lower our weary heads and simply trudge through life one day at a time—hope for a better tomorrow diminishing with each passing moment.
The Laingsburg flood of 1981 was the worst of its kind in South African history. In two days nearly half a meter (almost 17 inches) of rain fell, 104 people died, and 184 houses were destroyed. The town of Laingsburg was built close to the “dry river bed” of the Buffalo River. What the town engineers failed to realize, however, is that this relatively small river floods its banks every 100 years or so. Although the local farmers were initially grateful for the rain, their relief soon turned to dread as a six-meter (almost twenty-foot) wall of water rushed through the town, carrying with it people, animals, houses, and belongings.
It’s truly difficult to sit beside someone who’s grieving or in despair, a person who has taken one hit after another and has lost all hope. Whenever we surrender hope, our life slowly ebbs from us. We may continue to put one foot in front of the other, but we can no longer see the beauty around us. We no longer find joy in our life or in relationship with others. We see only gloom, and we find it nearly impossible to move toward light and love.
According to the experts, I’m part of the demographic known as Generation X. Maybe you are too. Born between 1965 and 1980, we’ve been described as being cynical about life, fearful of commitment, and spiritually lost. Ouch!