What is the source of hope during a difficult Christmas?
[An example of the significance of humour: Moyra’s daughter had this t-shirt made after strangers looked uncomfortable with her extreme coughing in their vicinity, wondering what contagious plagues she was inflicting on them.]
My friend Moyra is facing this Christmas with Stage IV lung cancer. When 'joy' and 'hope' are consumer slogans in shops, how can she articulate her experience of hope at this time? She should be the most hope-less person I know, but the contrary is true. Here are her responses to five questions I asked her about HOPE. Kara Martin
What does the word hope mean to you right now?
Hope - means so much, the source of strength in both our present circumstances, and also as we look with sorrow at the darkness elsewhere in the world, particularly Syria and the Middle East. Hope is living teleologically, knowing that the end of the story, God’s story throughout time, is good, and that flows back into our living and confidence now. The belief in a happy ending isn’t ’natural’ - just look at Greek tragedies, films in other cultures - it grows directly out of a Biblical understanding of life and time and God’s purposes.
Hope is also cross-shaped: that in the moment when evil seemed most conclusively to have triumphed, was the moment when God’s complete redemption was triumphantly birthed. So no evil now can ever be read without hope. And every circumstance becomes God’s gift to us, where we receive his redemption active in and through it in our lives. So in terminal lung cancer (and pulmonary embolisms, and all the other health challenges), yes, we are thankful for an incredible health system here, and the advances of science. But beyond that we are also more conscious of being held in God’s arms of love, and in the prayers of his people, and of all the ways that he is teaching us more about himself and nourishing us, "in all our ways - when we're sitting, or getting up, or lying down - held behind and before.”
Everyone walks through life’s challenges in their own way, and we all do our fair share of yelling at or arguing with God at different times. Hope also encompasses knowing that God holds us securely enough that we remain held in his arms even when we’re flailing or yelling at him.
I also think that having had the privilege of living in countries where material life and security are less certain, it’s not something we assume as a necessary part of life. At this point we’re both still alive - in many of the countries where we’ve lived, others have died by now when they’ve had this condition. And our constant close awareness of what is happening in the Middle East and elsewhere, our present grief at the realities, lives and deaths of others right now, gives a wider perspective to our own walk - and of the giftedness of each moment that we live.
How has your understanding of hope changed over the last six months?
It’s more present: it’s also anchored more firmly ‘behind the veil’, in the other side of death, where we find ultimate life, ultimate deliverance. As I read the Biblical passages of liberation now, I read them now not in ‘earthly’ terms, but as something I’ll encounter soon, beyond death. And such a close focus means a more restful life, letting go of lots of projects to concentrate on what is important now. Being so much weaker means more that the only good we can do is what God does through us - there’s less of our own strength to get in his way!
What is your source of hope?
I think I’ve said that above - but to ground it more: at times of encountering great turbulence, whether in our own or the lives of others (thinking back, for example, to last January, to meeting refugees coming off the boats at the Greek islands. They were fleeing from so much horror, with only the clothes they had, and so many had died on that route, arriving in grief and hope - to so little real ‘hope’ in material terms for their futures...), the psalms and the prayer book help us keep praying. The prayer book with the prayers and words of others when our own hearts are too tempestuous: and the Psalms always speak out of the deepest heart-felt realities of devastation, anger, grief, helplessness, to the God who hears us. And we pray to a God who is not distant, but took on our life (the discordant tones of incarnation, joy, flight and slaughter at Christmas), and experienced all the grief and helplessness that we do.
And God’s people hold us in their love and prayers and practical help.
What is your message of hope for others?
Hope is only cruciform and eschatological.
The only place to go with despair or anger is back to God - I don’t know any way to deal with it outside of Him. So that means taking the questions, or even just living with the questions, with Him, sitting with God, letting Him hold our feelings. It means letting the great truths of the Bible constantly reshape our own perceptions of what is happening and our prayers. And accepting the strength and love of the Body of Christ, expressed appropriately (and sometimes inappropriately), giving us the strength and resources to cope when we don’t have them in ourselves.
How do you express your hope?
I’m not sure of the answer to this, or where it fits in, but somewhere in there is asking God for the gift of keeping a robust sense of humour. It’s being aware of his sense of humour at some of the very comic moments of our lives and worship, of his sense of humour even in being willing to use people like us! And keeping our own humour as we encounter sometimes more challenging responses to my cancer or our sicknesses, learning to see the very many ways in which daily life is comic, beautiful, even glorious. The principle of decay is all around us (against the belief in unidirectional progress); but the principle of renewal and new life, birthed through Christ’s redemption, is also operant everywhere.
Kara Martin is Project Leader with Seed, Mentor Educator with the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia (Victoria), MBA Curriculum Developer with Excelsia College, and former Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute at Ridley College in Melbourne. She has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. She was Director of the School of Christian Studies for three years and has lectured with the Brisbane School of Theology, Macquarie Christian Studies Institute and Wesley Institute. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, as well as helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is married to David, and they have two amazing adult children: Jaslyn and Guy. She is currently under contract to write a two-volume exploration of Workship: how we can worship God through our work.