What I wish I could tell you is that it’s simple.
I wish I could tell you that it comes from a few moving Bible verses sung over an acoustic guitar, written in ink on your wrist. I wish I could point it out to you with twenty-two images that will “restore your faith in humanity” and ten thousand proofs of how heaven is truly breaking through and a million photos of smiling children and old people and rescued animals. I want to wrap hope up, drop it in your hands like a gift.
If only it were simple.
If only hope weren’t that vital drink of water in an endless desert, the bird there and then shooting away when you move. I should know. I’ve got a history of chasing after hope…and calling off the search.
White noise was all I could hear during the darkest days of my depression. I went about my days numb and half-asleep. During the nights, I cried, but with a still face, like it was no big deal, as if my body was keeping up the routines while I fell away from living in it. I would think: There’s no hope for me. Then I’d stop thinking all together.
I was depressed, yes, but I was also, more importantly, devastatingly disenchanted. Early on, when the sad feelings were so strong and startling, I fought the good fight of faith. I pulled out every victorious scripture I knew, I confessed to my Bible Study that I was very low, I attended a church with a stand of prayer candles meant to symbolize prayers made on behalf of others, and I secretly lit several for myself. I was so desperate. I was falling. I did everything in the Christian manual. I prayed long and exhaustive prayers into the night sky, holding out with a forced assurance that he would show up, he would heal me on the spot.
And after all of that, I ended up smudged out and silenced – a phantom of my former self. I went numb.
I watched, apathetically, as my life nosedived into the basement of a bar, soaking with spilled drink I could only faintly feel the wetness of. From the busy curb outside, I heard the sound of the dark siren. And I almost surrendered to it. I nearly did.
But then I didn’t. By a mix of magical resolve and zero hour grace, I went home the next day and confessed everything. I came out of the closet, with both my sexuality and suicidal desires. Like a squeezed sponge, I emptied it all onto my people.
And it was a relief, yes, it was magical, sure, but I soon figured out that hope doesn’t work like a light switch. I soon discovered that depression wasn’t a failure in faith.
Here’s where I think we get this whole hope thing wrong: We want it to happen in a snap. We want it to come after a dramatic release of feelings and honesty and hard truths. We want it to be fair. We want it to repay us for the courage we just shelled out.
But like the slow descending steps into depression, recovering hope is also a long winding process. It requires patience and pragmatism. It needs you to trust in the long way around, even when the quick answer seems just a few leaps away. It needs you to do the steadfast work of laying a foundation, brick by small brick.
Days after my big night, I sat at the kitchen table hovering over a cup of coffee, when my aunt handed my my first one.
She had done her time in depression, years ago. She knew that uplifting palatial proverbs about darkness before the dawn, and how God always works for those He loves were not what I needed to hear. She knew I needed a listener. And abider. And she also believed I needed something simple, practical.
“Make a list,” she said. “Everyday make a point to write down ten things you are grateful for. Anything at all. And after a while, do twenty things, then thirty and so on. I know it sounds…well, small,but it really helped me.”
Perhaps I would’ve been more reluctant to this had I been better, but I had tried every other way. I had nothing to lose.
That day I sat down, opened a fresh new notebook and wrote my ten things. I said I was thankful for beautiful things, like a partly cloudy sky, and funny things, like every film with Steve Martin, and privileged things, like having a car. I did it again and again, day after day, and it wasn’t so much that this was the sure path to freedom, but it was the only bite I could really chew. It was a brick that I had the strength to carry.
Not long after, I became an artist again, building sculptures with my hands, mixing colors into new exciting tones, stretching canvas and hammering frames. I swallowed my pride with a couple egg-shaped “happy” pills and began weekly therapy. I prayed for awareness. I prayed for strenth. I prayed for patience. Patience. Patience.
And gradually, gently, I became hopeful. The world softened and balanced and soon enough, I was not afraid to live.
What I want you to know about real hope is that it doesn’t just come in a tiny tract or a good book or a session with a therapist. It doesn’t come all at once. It takes time. It takes perseverance. It takes months, years, and there’s never a point where things click and you suddenly have hope, but there is a point when you realize how much stronger you are. How much wiser. You know the fragility of circumstances to throw you back in the pit, but you also know the way out by heart.
You know the path, and you know the transformation that comes, if only you walk it.