Question Four: “Can I admit that some things will never get better?”
Introduction to the series
Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss. My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease. He would have been 58 years old in October.
In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test, which was just released by Abingdon Press. The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love. Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.
Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays. At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.” But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone. I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.
This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I admit that some things will never get better?”
“Cheer up, it could be worse.” Of course it could be and it often is — for someone, somewhere. Pick any day of the week, including the holidays and there are people for whom life will never get any better. Loved ones will be lost, jobs will vanish, relationships will implode. There is no getting over those experiences. As one expert puts it, there are times when the best we can do is “re-learn the world.”
So, why do we find it so hard to admit that is the case when we, or someone we love suffers a devastating loss? The reasons vary.
For some, admitting that things will never get better is fundamentally a matter of denial. The shock of finding ourselves in a world that is forever changed is too hard to absorb. So, we go on asserting that “things will get better,” or they are “a blessing in disguise.” At times, we can be so deeply shocked and frightened by life’s realities that it is easier to believe that things will somehow snap back into place.
Some fear that acknowledging the truth about our losses will lead to despair. So, in an effort to spare ourselves or to spare a friend, we delay admitting the truth. My brother struggled a lot with people who refused to admit that things would never improve. He knew better the day that his MRI detected the brain tumor that destroyed his eyesight.
Others have specifically religious reasons for postponing the moment of honesty. Strangely, many of us are taught that in some sort of emotional or spiritual slight of hand, if we leave open the possibility that the world around us will return to normal, then we have done our part in being faithful. Conversely, we are taught that if we tell the truth about how little chance there is that some things will change then we aren’t being faithful and we have actively foreclosed on the possibility of God intervening.
Whatever our reasons for failing to admit that sometimes things will not get better, we are living at odds with a fundamental truth about our lives: We are mortal and everything in this life — however good — comes to an end. The greatest of our holidays and the greatest of our religious traditions understand this truth and derive hope, courage, and perspective on life. But that can’t be achieved without first owning this truth.
When we do own that truth, we learn what really matters in life, we get a clearer sense of what endures and what does not, we reclaim the importance of love and relationships, and we discover what “faith in the love of God” really means. Celebrate the holidays with communities that can admit that sometimes life is lived out in those thin places where things are not going to change.
For more on taking The Dave Test during the holidays:
Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”
Question Two: “Can I give up my broken gods?”
Question Three: “Can I avoid using stained-glass language?”
To read more about The Dave Test, or to order a copy:
(Click on the book to order)