What if life was never going to be any different for you?
I don't really know how I came to think about such things, but it's an idea I've been rolling around in my head for a few days. Although I would not say that I am in a place of hopelessness (more on that tomorrow), I will say that I find myself suddenly intimately acquainted with the idea, in the sense that I think I finally understand where this incredible depravity comes from.
Hopelessness is not, as it may so easily be defined, simply the understanding that things are what they are and they're never going to change. It's not this idea that things are never going to get better. That's despair, and it's a bit of a different beast. Despair is a weighty burden; it's a heaviness that kind of just holds the air right out of you. Hopelessness, though...hopelessness is less of a burden and more of a void. It's a void of both memory and imagination.
Here's what happens:
Life becomes whatever life is. Hours, days, weeks, years go by and life just slowly sort of settles into this routine. It settles into this being that is something less than you ever thought it could be, but it happens so quietly that you don't even realize until you get there. And by then, it's too late. Without being consciously aware of it, you suddenly find that you've lost your imagination. You've lost your ability to think life could ever be anything different than it is right now. You've lost the very foundation of hope. Life is what it is, and you're stuck here.
For awhile, however, you have this other side that you can rely on: you have your memory. You may not have your imagination, you may not have hope for tomorrow, but you've not yet lost sight of a time in the not-so-distant past (or maybe far-too-distant past) where you still had hope, where you still had imagination, where you were fired up by all the grand ideas you had about what your life was going to be. With memory, there is grief, but at least here, you remember what hope feels like. You remember what it's like to believe in bigger things.
But as time presses on and life continues to drain you of your imagination, this hope becomes such a foreign idea that you can't believe any more that you ever really had it. Your memory of all those big dreams? It starts to fade. All of a sudden, you're living a here-and-now that seems like it is also the always-and-forever. It feels like it's been your whole past and it's going to be your whole future and not only can you not see a way out of it, but you can't remember what life was like before this broken mess. It just...is what it is, and it becomes your everything. It's your life story. This broken, messed-up, oppressing life as you know it, completely void of both the imagination that would allow you to hope and the memory that would remind you that at one time, you did.
There's just this. This...is all there is. This...is all there ever has been. This...is all there ever will be. And all of a sudden, this broken life you're living...it's not even the brokenness that bothers you any more. It's not even the pain, the trial, the trouble that gets to you. It doesn't bother you so much that what you're living right now isn't the most beautiful thing.
No, what gets under your skin in hopelessness is the emptiness. It's the void. It's the vacancy of your own existence.
It's an easy trap to fall into, precisely because it's such a quiet one. It happens without our even noticing until we're in too deep. Until we start to hear the winds whistle through our hollow hearts, we're often unaware of the emptiness that's settling into us. By then, it feels too late. Almost too late...
But there is a way. It's not easy, but it's out there. And those of us who live with faith have a bit of a jump on it. Tomorrow, I'm going to tell you how we meet this hopelessness head-on.