The Ache of Unfulfilled Hope

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Over the past year, I have seen a young friend struggle with infertility and experience her third miscarriage. Another friend is wrestling the unfulfilled desire of marriage as she enters another decade still single. My heart breaks for them and aches with them. I’m short of words that can fit into the emptiness left by unfulfilled desires. There aren’t any.  

For my part, I have wanted and prayed for friends in my own season, peers with whom I could connect deeply. A desire God has answered very differently than what I’ve asked.

I’m 46, married with no children. The women my age are busy navigating motherhood, while the women whose schedule might resemble a bit my own are university students. But I’m neither a mother nor a student. I’m a wife, who works from home, and spiritually parents and mentors a few younger friends. Not quite one or the other, I feel very much between seasons, even though the calendar and my energy says I’m definitely in my 40’s.

While I do remember well how difficult it was to be single, having married late in life, I don’t mean to compare my pain with theirs; there’s no comparison. I can’t possibly imagine the trial of witnessing your body reject naturally what you most want, or how my single friend is facing her loneliness. But I do relate deeply and have much compassion for the pain that it causes to have your hope broken.

Our heart can barely breathe out a prayer of any sort when all we feel is the oversized void of unfulfilled hope. It’s so hard to expect any good from a God who is seemingly withholding a good thing. After all, a child, a spouse, or meaningful friendships, are by no means far-fetched or wrong things to want.

How does one go about this? Navigating the pain of not having, and the terrible disappointment that comes with the conclusion that God must not care? Does God care?

The answer that has helped me is actually to ask a different question – What does God care about? He cares about us, infinitely so. Jesus on the cross is the evidence. This is both the Sunday School answer and as factual as one can get. But we need more.

God cares about His character; His holiness. So much so, that unable to be close to Him because of our broken nature, He bridged the gap we couldn’t. What does any of this have to do with grief due to absence where we wished for something, and in its place have an empty womb, a ringless finger, or no bosom friends with whom to share deeply?

I remember a season in my 20’s when I couldn’t grasp God being loving and all-knowing. As a recent convert, I was carrying wounds caused by others and could not reconcile why the pain was present and not just part of my past. I had accepted Jesus into my life, and this brought me inexplicable joy. But the things that were broken in my heart and in my life before meeting him were still broken and painful after opening my life to his. It was pain and disappointment I could not wrap my brain around. Why Lord? – I asked.

My best friend exhorted me to hold on to what I knew to be true about God. It challenged me because what I knew in my head was in total dissonance with what I felt in my heart and saw in my life (the pain by others still causing damage). She pressed on and encouraged me to go with what I knew about Him rather than what I knew of people, or myself, or the situation at hand. To accompany my emotions with what was True of God. I tried. Two important things happened.

The first is that it forced me to dig deeper and revise what I knew of God. It made me go to Scripture and look for His character in the stories I was familiar with, not simply remember I knew the story.  The second was a shift in direction from where my feelings were taking me.

Were the feelings gone? Of course not. The things that caused pain were still painful. I still felt very much hurt and wrestled with anger that God allowed certain things to map out as they did. What did change, however, was the conclusion. There was room for God to be good and who He says He is, within my circumstances. The fact is that the veracity of who He is and the magnitude of our heartbreak aren’t mutually exclusive.

I am allowed to hurt, be angry even, and yet include Him in the conversation. This is about as real as it gets in any relationship. While my pain is very real, my conclusions about God may not be accurate. Knowing Truth allows for pain and hope to coexist.

God’s character is good and sovereign. And neither attribute depends on circumstance. This is what makes trusting Him so difficult but also comforting. He is good even when others aren’t. He is sovereign even over an ailment that can’t be explained.

 If He is indeed good and sovereign, then why does He allow things that are painful, and not fix them? How can His goodness tolerate that, or His sovereignty allow it? I don’t have an answer for either of my friends or for myself, that would aptly cover this question in the pain each is facing. I don’t think any words could. Instead, I hold on to what I know of His character, it serves as the flotation device I hold on when drowning in questions and sore from heart-ache I can’t understand.

The broken pieces of my life are an indication of my need for something outside of myself. The goodness of God in the face of bad inexplicable hurt is the hope that holds us. It is the mystery of the cross, where Jesus facing torture and utter abandonment entrusted himself to the Father. The torture and the pain were as real as was his need for help to go through it.

I let my emotions be what takes me to Him, not away from Him. Let sorrows become an invitation to lean into Him, to fall apart and cry, and allow Him to enter the hurt with you. I think the invitation is to lean into Him and wait in Him, abide in Him.

When I pray for my two friends, holding out the pieces of what could have been and isn’t yet, I echo their why Lord?, I ask for longings to be met, and plead that come what may, to help us to trust Him to be good no matter the outcome, knowing that because He is God, He is good and can’t be anything other than who He said He is.

A prayer for us all-

Take our empty hands, aching from what we can’t hold, and keep them open Lord, that we may receive You. Pull us near, hold us and our sorrow so big, because You Lord are bigger, and because You Lord, are good. Thank you for not running from our pain, but instead want to enter it that we may know you deeper. May we feel Your love in all the broken pieces as You make all things new. We need You and we love you, give us Hope to hope in You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.