If you’ve never read them, I highly recommend Fr Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living. Lately, one in particular has been bouncing around in my head:
This may be one of the hardest maxims to follow because, all-too-often, rather than face reality, we place ourselves in a story of our own making.
Noted author Brené Brown (you may have seen her incredible TED talk) has described the tendency we have to “make the uncertain certain.” In her newest book, Rising Strong, she explores how, rather than confront the intense pain of uncertainty, we escape into a false certainty that we construct.
For example, I usually expect my wife to be home at a certain time in the evening. If she’s late, I begin to worry. So (as dysfunctional as it may be), I begin to imagine all the terrible things that must have happened to her. Of course when she arrives, the story is never as gruesome as I imagined; she simply stopped to vacuum the van.
I consistently respond to any kind of uncertainty in the same over-anxious way: I write an ending to a story I tell myself, all because imagining the worst is somehow less painful than living in the discomfort of uncertainty.
I try to imagine what might be going on instead of living in the pain of my own reality. The reality that I have no idea what is going on.
And that uncertainty terrifies me.
So in response (and I don’t think I’m alone here) I make up a false reality, because for some reason, that false reality feels better than true reality – that things are remarkably uncertain.
I think this may be one of the reasons that despair is such a strong temptation and such a destructive force. It writes an ending to the story that simply isn’t true. In Christ, we see that death does not get the final say. The powers of darkness do not win.
Yet this reality is hard to remember when we’re feeling ourselves being broken by the overwhelming events in our lives: the loss of a relationship, the end of a job, the death of a parent.
All of these things leave us vulnerable, exposed, and suddenly the uncertainty of Christ’s Resurrection is palpable. It is almost impossible not to wonder (at least a little bit), “Will Jesus really win in the end? Will everything really be okay?”
We resolve our doubt by sinking into the certainty of despair.
We may think that the faithful move in this situation is to instead rush to a premature confidence in the Resurrection; we may be tempted on Good Friday to pretend we are living on Easter Sunday, to step around the Cross rather than through it. Of course, that’s impossible: there is a whole day between the Cross and the Resurrection.
A day where Jesus is just laying in the tomb…dead.
Where He is just gone.
In the Gospel reading this Sunday, we will see the Theotokos and St. John standing at the foot of Christ’s Cross, gazing upon the pierced and dying body of the Lord.
Standing right in the middle of terrible uncertainty.
After all, the One that they hoped would save Israel was now crucified, broken, and dying. How could they not have wondered (at least a little bit) whether Jesus really had known what He was saying when He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19)?
The temptation in such a moment would be to either deny reality or rush to a premature conclusion. On the one hand, one could easily find false comfort in optimism: “Come on, Jesus. You can get off that Cross. Do it, buddy!” And on the other hand, it may be too easy to find false comfort in despair: “Oh great, I knew it. I knew He was a phony.”
It’s much harder to say, “The One I love is crucified. I don’t understand., but I’m here.” Living in the disappointment, living in the loss, living in the uncertainty of this is way harder than delusion, on the one hand, or despair, on the other.
And yet the Theotokos and St. John just stand there, rather than escape into a false, imagined reality.
I wonder: however, how many of us are comfortable with this? I know I’m not. I frequently want to use my faith to resolve my anxiety instead of leaning into the fact that sometimes things just hurt, and that they might hurt for a long time.
That before Sunday comes both Friday (the day of dying) and Saturday (the day of being dead).
Each of us is faced with crosses and “holy Saturdays” of our own, where we feel stretched, broken, beaten, even dead. Where we simply cannot imagine that things will get any better any time soon. On these days, it’s too easy to rush to escape the tension....
But I can’t shake the feeling that uncertainty can somehow nourish faith, that somehow doubt is not the opposite of faith, but is rather the breeding ground for it. So maybe we’re actually being called to lean into the uncertainty, rather than to resolve it.
Maybe we’re called to sit with Him in the tomb for a while.
That’s what the Theotokos and St. John did. They didn’t seek to save Christ from the Cross, or lose faith in Him when things really seemed uncertain. They stayed with Him rather than flee into a world of imaged certainty. Because, as uncomfortable as it may be, this escape makes us miss out on the opportunity to be with Christ where He is, whether it’s on the Cross. or in Hades.
Perhaps, in moments of uncertainty, the Lord invites us to trust in Him with all our heart, and not to rely on our own knowledge (Prov. 3:5). Perhaps the call to “face reality” is simply this, simply leaning on Christ while fully experiencing the weight of our disappointments and confusion, there at the brink of despair, as we gaze into the chasm of our own limitation and weakness.
The only question that remains is whether or not we actually have the courage to sit in the dark for a bit, and to hope, to trust that the Lord will act to deliver us from death and despair.
Because any deliverance we can offer is simply imaginary.
Anxious Guy: zetson via Compfight cc
Doubt: y3rdua via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on doubt, check out this episode of Be the Bee: