By Karen Swank
“I have no fear of drowning. It’s the breathing that’s taking all this work…”
-Jars of Clay, “Work”
Yesterday morning, a respected elected official in my town killed himself.
This morning, I sobbed myself sick driving to work as I prayed for his family and our community. The sky was gray, and my windshield coated with the grimy film of too many rounds of defrost cycles. The roads I traveled were lined with the filthy snow of January in Illinois, and the happy people laughing on my radio station were in jangling discord with the reality of my day.
I didn’t know him well, but our kids went to school together…and once upon a time we belonged to the same church…and my office coordinated with his on election issues. Our lives touched just enough that I knew his name, his face, and his voice. Still I find myself reeling.
One of my very strong gifts is empathy. Unlike sympathy, which is basically feeling sorry for someone, empathy is feeling some part of their pain along with them. God awakened this gift in me along about the time I got serious about praying for others…it’s not hard to pray for almost anyone from the place of empathy.
He leaves behind a wife and three kids. Peering into the landscape that surely surrounds them, I stood once again in moments of my life when something both Horrible and Irrevocable has occurred, and I remembered how time completely stops and reality becomes the most unreal thing of all. It left me crying out for comfort for them, knowing there must surely be so very little of that within reach right now. The world through that lens seemed an unbearably harsh place, bordering on uninhabitable.
Despite how badly I did not want to go there, inside my mind I stood beside him in his last moments, and though I don’t know what drove him there, the force of something strong enough to rob a 61 year old man of his most basic resources is something I can grasp just enough that it makes my knees knock and leaves something inside me screaming in horror. No part of me condemns him…I just want to grab his hand and rip him out of that moment, back from the edge of no return.
Hopelessness. Is there anything more frightening?
If we who are in Christ have hope only in this life and that is all, then we are of all people most miserable and to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:19
I don’t know where people without faith turn for comfort in these situations, where nothing can be understood or explained to any satisfaction. My comfort this morning was this: I am in this world, but not of this world. I am an alien, a stranger, an ambassador with a message, but this place is not my home. If there is any other comfort to be had, it is well beyond my view and far out of my grasp. At times like this I feel the “other-ness” of who I am acutely, and it gives me a small sliver of something to hold on to – just enough to get me through the day.
The hope I hold onto for him, and for his family, is that perhaps they too are aliens. I know they did church – I hope and pray with all my might that he had found his Savior before he went on, and that his family already knows the only One truly worth clinging to.
Driving home from work there were more tears, and I considered how readily we all too often conspire to stifle, squash, and even murder hope. It’s so easy to expect the worst, to presume every negative possibility, to speculate pointlessly on every item that can go wrong. Grieving over the end result of hope successfully eliminated in one life, I am convicted of every hope-killing tendency in me, and determined to hunt each one down and cut it off. I can’t do it alone, but I know Someone who will go along the journey with me, and do all the things I cannot.
Hope. It’s a matter of life and death. The only true Hope far surpasses this bleak, gray, cold world…but you and I can either nurture or sever the tendrils that sprout from every person, reaching for that Hope.
What will we do?
Karen is from Aledo, IL. She went to Monmouth College and studied Latin and English. She is a biological mom of two children and surrogate mom/friend/advocate for a whole host of children. She would like to meet every wounded soul that I’ve she’s ever known… as a child, before the “damage was done” so she could tell them how much they are loved.