What to do When Life Kills Your Dream

What to do When Life Kills Your Dream

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of your need? Did you find that you were so lonely in your struggle that you wept silent tears in a bathroom stall at work because you were afraid of the judgmental eyes of others? Did you look at the happy people around you and struggle to remember the happy days of your youth? Do you feel the void in your heart where hope use to be?

Victor Hugo wrote the beautiful character, Fantine, in his magnum opus, Les Miserable. She was described as “The Blonde, because of her beautiful sunny hair” and her story begins when she is young and full of hope for the future. She is in love with Felix Tholomyes and in the company of beautiful friends. They go about celebrating, feasting and drinking, but at the end of the day they are abandoned by the men, and Fantine is left to care for her illegitimate child. She lives and breathes only for her daughter, and in a cruel twist of fate loses her job and is forced to become a prostitute to care for her beloved Cosette.

In the popular musical she sings, “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living. So different now from what it seemed. Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.” Have you ever felt like that?

How do we manage to keep hope alive when our body is failing? I have a friend who has endured more physical suffering than anyone I know and without complaint. Terri has fought breast cancer twice. She endured Sarcoidosis. Then she met bone marrow cancer and received a successful bone marrow transplant only to develop host vs. graft disease. This plague has attacked her lungs and her bones, which are literally disintegrating. She is now confined to a wheel chair and her days are spent in a small home in isolation. Sometimes we are so reduced by our puddle of pain that nothing will bring us comfort.

So it was with Job, my favorite character in the Bible. Now maybe you are reading this and thinking, “Oh, great. Margaret is talking about religion again.” And maybe you think religion is nonsense for stupid people and no more than fairy tales for the uneducated. If we were sitting in a café over a cup of coffee I would counter that with, don’t we all need a hero? And if we don’t, why are there so many heroes in modern media? (Superman, X-Men, Agents of Shield, Spock, etc.) They are so popular that people dress up like them and pretend to be them. So give me this, even if Job wasn’t real and never lived (which I believe he did), I still think there is something we can learn from him as revealed in his character via his story in the Bible.

The story goes that Satan challenged God to strike Job (a rich and prosperous man) with afflictions with the understanding that, “if you stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, he will curse you to your face.” I get the feeling that this is a familiar strategy of Satan’s. He expects people to curse God when bad things happen to them. And in an interesting twist, God took Satan up on the challenge. In one day, all of Job’s children died in a tragic accident, storms came and destroyed his livelihood, and finally he was stricken with physical sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. It would be easy to read all of this with little more than passing interest were it not for the recent afflictions my country of origin is currently faced with (Hurricanes, fires, floods and the obesity epidemic—you know I had to squeeze that one in there!).

Predictably, Job’s wife said, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die.” (and before you are too hard on her, please remember they were her children too). But Job said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” I can’t imagine there was anyone on earth more deserving of reasons to curse God, but Job did not. Why?

I don’t know about my dear reader, but I have cursed God for much lesser things. Bad brakes, for instance. On my car. (You can’t see me but I’m shaking my head in shame). When I read about Job my heart lurches in my chest. Could I maintain my faith in a God I cannot see if I lost everything of value, like Job did? The honest answer is, I don’t know.

Also, I don’t know how as human beings we come to react so dispassionately to people in pain. Could it be that suffering people make us uncomfortable? Could it be that our inability to relieve their pain makes us feel helpless and so we begin to avoid them because their suffering exposes our own insecurities? Is that why suffering people end up isolated? Because we are too selfish to enter into their suffering with them? But I digress.

Job’s friends did the next reasonable thing they could think of and attacked his character. They basically said he had brought all of this suffering on himself because of his mistakes. I personally can’t think of a more hurtful thing to say to my friend Terri than, “You sure are having a rough go of things. I bet the physical suffering you are dealing with is all your fault.” No wonder Job responded with, “Such miserable comforters are you all!”

But I find immense value in Job’s responses and observations. He says of God, “Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?'” and “For He (God) is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him.” Job pleads for relief and he wants to know why these terrible things happened to him. Isn’t that the question all of us ask when we encounter physical, emotional and basically any kind of stress or pain? “God, why me?”

Whenever the sorrows and suffering in my life overwhelm me, I turn to the book of Job because interestingly, God actually answers back. And his answer (in the form of a series of questions), comforts me. (You can read starting in Job 38 if you’d like the full response). But I think the gist of what He says is, “It’s not all about you, Job. There are bigger things at play here.” And then he goes on to describe His character as revealed through nature. “Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?” To me this passage is echoed in the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

I think God’s response to Job is basically this, “I see your pain. Nothing gets by me. Now, Job, you say it’s all my fault, but do you –a mere man—really have the whole picture?” (Job 40:2)

Terri could ask God the very real question, “God, does my pain have a purpose?”

I believe it does.

Terri acknowledged the suffering that comes with spending weeks and months in a hospital bed, but instead of wallowing in her suffering, as I am prone to do, she turned her understanding into action. She formed her own little ministry called, “Pouches for Patients.” The ministry provides long term patients on a remote telemetry a way to get out of a hospital gown and into their “normal clothes”. She hand knits pouches that can be worn around the neck and then donates them to the Siteman Cancer Center. The problem is they have become so popular, Terri was not able to make enough to meet demand. So she asks her friends to help sew, crochet and knit more. Where does that kind of love come from? Terri is on oxygen and can barely move due to crushing pain, but she slowly and carefully seeks to find a way to provide relief to others. Why? She wants to give comfort to people with the comfort she has received.

Fantine died in abject misery. Jean Valjean was so moved by compassion for her that he sought out and adopted her child and raised her as his own. If you know the story, he too was helped by the hand of love and grace. We often speak of love as if it is a trifle of a gift to give, but it is the most powerful gift in the world.

We often speak of Jesus as a good man who lived on the earth many years ago. But if we read the gospel stories about him we learn that he claimed to be God. As he was being arrested, one of his friends tried to protect him and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers who sought to seize him. Jesus admonished him, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” And then he healed the guard by putting his ear back on. Can you imagine the conversations that guy had with his friends and family the next day? Jesus was called a man of sorrows and one acquainted with grief. But he didn’t have to be. He could have stayed in heaven and left human beings to their own devices.

But he did not.

Why?

How come we never ask that question?

I believe the answer is because he loves us. At least that’s what all the bumper stickers say.

We are not alone. We are not without hope. But we have something more profound than the mere fleeting happiness of youth. We have something more wonderful than a catchy tune that tells us to “clap along when we feel like a room without a roof.” We have something…no rather, some One, who saw the whole picture and came to sit with us in our pain. He didn’t tell us it was our fault (though it was) but rather took all the bad things we ever did and nailed them to a tree called Calvary and there killed death forever.

Is your husband or brother fighting cancer? Has your son cut off all contact and promised to never speak to you again? Is your body wracked with pain unmentionable? Is your child disabled in such a way that you have retreated to your home and are barely able to leave? Or did your child die? Are you Fantine? Has life killed the dream you dreamed? There is hope. All you have to do is reach out and take His hand.

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