“You hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death. Goodbye, Mr. Anderson.” Agent Smith, The Matrix
“Life has killed the dream in me.” Fontaine, Les Miserables
I am writing this at the end of August, during our monsoon season. And yet it has not rained over our house in five weeks. I know that’s been the story almost everywhere in the US all summer. Crops are dying. Trees too. The most destructive forest fire in Colorado history did its dirty work in our neck of the woods due to the drought.
Daily the last few weeks its looked like rain over our house. The wind kicks up. Ominous clouds churn and threaten. “Its fixin’ to spit,” I tell me wife, in my best backwoods country boy drawl, I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m so excited. And then it doesn’t. Everything blows over. Its all a bluff.
I miss the rain. My lawn and trees miss the rain. Everything is missing the rain. The leaves are turning color already and its only August. Its being attributed to the stress of this hot, dry summer.
Yesterday, dark clouds rolled in yet again. The wind kicked up. And I said to myself, “Here we go again – the whole act-like-its-going-to-rain joke.” I shook my head, “Its never going to rain.” Now that’s ridiculous. Of course it will rain again (even though it didn’t yesterday). But its been so long. And I’m tired of hoping for it.
I sat with a couple recently and lamented with them that yet again another month had passed and they were not pregnant. They have been trying for over five years. Now in their 30’s, they’ve watched their friends’ kids grow up from babies to school age kids. The wife spoke first, “Its just so hard to keep hoping for this and having my heart ripped out.” She fought tears as her husband dropped his head in his hands. “Lets face it. We will never be pregnant.” And with this they both lost it.
My heart broke for them too. They were exhausted from carrying around this dream and being at its mercy. The temptation to believe It will never happen was never more enticing. Anything seemed easier than writhing in pain like this. Just drive the knife into the heart of hope and be done. Accept the inevitable “never” and get on with life.
I hear this all the time through the stories of my clients. “I know I will never change.” “My spouse will never truly love me.” “I will always be lonely.” “I will never get over this addiction.” “My heart will never heal.” “God will never show up.” Whatever the specifics, the basic message is the same: Nothing will change for the better. Life will go on exactly like it is today in all its misery… forever. It is certain. Unavoidable. Inevitable.
Ah, yes, the voice of inevitability.
That voice is there to suffocate hope, which we think will rescue us from pain. Its so painful to keep hoping and being disappointed. We are tempted to just stop the hoping period. So we turn to this voice like a hired hit man. We accept the “never” as true and thereby let it, even ask it, to kill our hope. To put a towel over its mouth, let it writhe and gasp for air, and expel its final breath. There. Maybe we’ve set ourselves free from the potential for more disappointment.
But we haven’t. It doesn’t work. Its a deal with the devil. And the devil has no power to truly rid us of pain.
Yes, I think that voice is evil. I really do think you’ve got a demon whispering over your shoulder to you. You know why? Because the voice is so very, very arrogant. It speaks like it knows the future with absolute certainty. And the future it knows without a doubt is always a miserable one. You are going to die. Or fail. Or get your heart broken. Or stay stuck in a lifeless marriage your whole life. It acts like the great Narrator in the sky, God himself, come to give you the inevitable bad news.
So maybe its not a demon every time. But probably the first time you started believing it. And then, like author Dan Allender says, evil has efficiently let you take over perpetuating the voice. Like a ventriloquist dummy, you puppet the voice of evil. I can always hear this echoing back from my clients “never” sentences. Its not their voice and it is their voice all at the same time. You agree with the voice and thereby recite right along with it. It is a real agreement, a pact with Evil, as John Eldredge calls it.
And its all bullshit. It makes for a very linear storyline: Your problems and struggles will go on and on and on in monotonous misery. Stories never happen like this. Ask any fiction author or screenplay writer. Its the nature of story that things change, characters change. A plot always builds to some dramatic tension, yes. But then it resolves. And it will resolve somehow, thought not always how the characters hope of course. But not how the villain in the story hopes either. Its true about the way we write stories because its true about life.
Ah, but when you feel hopeless or disappointed or heartbroken, life isn’t a moving picture anymore. Its a still photo. We can only see whats in front of us. We lose the ability to imagine a life different than the one we have now. Life feels like a train plodding on linear tracks heading ever onward into the fog. The plot gets lost.
This is why the writer of Proverbs said that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” The sickness here is the inability to dream anymore. When we lose hope, we lose the ability to imagine other possibilities. We literally cannot imagine a better life anymore. Its like an amnesia of the future.
And dreaming is so fundamental to hoping. Dreaming is hoping. “Hope is a memory of the future,” said french philosopher Gabriel Marcel. And I think he’s saying hope is an act of the imagination. Hope is not optimism or positive thinking. Its much more three dimensional. Its dreaming of the future.
Mark Twain said, “A person cannot depend on the eyes when the imagination is out of focus.” Or in other words, we cannot see the present correctly when we have no vision for the future. And this is the devil’s playground. He seeks those who have lost heart, lost their dreams, because he knows we are more open to buy into his fatalistic story lines. Without imagination, without heart, we are more willing to agree with him. We will accept his version of the story because we’ve lost our own.
Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz describes just such an experience. In a particularly lonely time of his life, a friend shared a story she was working on about an astronaut who goes on a space walk and floats away. An innocent story shared in passing. But it haunted Donald, especially at night as he slept. He was tormented with an image of himself floating in space alone for years and years. “All my thoughts mingled together because I had no people to tell me what was real and what wasn’t real.”
Can you hear his vulnerability to another story – and a very linear one at that? And can you hear how difficult it was to stay in reality when his hope was lost?
Here’s another story: Two of Jesus followers were walking along the road to Emmaus, heart broken a couple days after Jesus death. Jesus comes to them disguised as a witless fellow traveler and asks whats wrong. They look at him, “Are you the only one in the world who doesn’t know what’s happened?” So they tell him the story. “We had hoped he was going to be the Messiah. But its been three days now…” Queue the voice of inevitability.
And here Jesus speaks up, tells them the story all over again, helps them see it again and hear it with hope. And the effect? “Were not our hearts burning within us?” they exclaim when their vision is restored. That’s the feeling of hope returning.
Restoring your hope is not something you can do on your own. Even dreaming again is virtually impossible on your own. You too need Jesus to come along side of you and restore your burning heart. And you need your friends to help you with that too, to hope and dream for you.
But you can fight the temptation to agree with the voice of inevitability. You can resist making an agreement with “[fill in the blank] will never change in my life.” You can guard your heart against the false “never” plotless stories of evil. And like a set of antenna waiting for a radio transmission, you can keep your imagination waiting for God to give you your dreams back.
So what about you? What is the inevitable – the “never” – you’re being tempted to agree with? And what dream do you need God to infuse again with hope?