I used to wonder if I could shine a flashlight all the way to the moon. I loved the long, metal flashlights the best; they always seemed so heavy and assuring. If anything could cut the night, it would be one of those. The beam of it would extend predictably from the weighty torch in my hand. I could point the flashlight at the trees, parting the night around me, down to the ground where the circle of light became condensed and definite. But when I angled the yellow beam up towards the stars, it seemed to dissipate. Oh, I could see the light tracing its trajectory like a pillar, but it grew more and more faint until it simply wasn’t.
There was the moon above me, a silver land thousands of miles away gently following my every step; between it and and my faltering flashlight was simply darkness. I never quite gave up trying as I got older, I only discovered more lights that couldn’t pierce the sky. The light always shone brightest when it spilled in a puddle at my feet. Darkness was always too vast, and the night remained uncrossed.
It is in the middle of the first week of Advent, the week of hope, that I sit down finally, still my hands and head and heart long enough to think about hope for a moment. As I wait and try to think, it seems that everything I’ve been trying not to think about floats to the surface.
I find nothing abjectly terrible among the flotsam. No sharp griefs, no great losses. Even my health, which has been fragile for several years, is finally becoming almost robust. But I do not find much hope either, its faint light seems too meager against the shadowy fears that arise.
I sit and ponder, casting the beam of hope up this way and that into the darkness of worry, wondering if it is bright enough to reverse the night.
But every time, hope fizzles. The fears become physical. Suddenly I am weak and tired, afraid of my own inability to face the merely average challenges of my own life. The flashlight beam of hope has only grazed the edges of the trees, illuminated the branches just enough to cast larger-than-life shadows. Afternoon hopelessness presses down like night.
On the first Sunday in Advent, hope Sunday itself, I was scheduled to join the youngest class of Sunday school at our church. We began with a small liturgy, and then the teacher pulled out a wooden doll and set him on a path of brown felt that, she said, led to Bethlehem. She talked about the prophets, foretelling Jesus’ birth hundreds of years before he was born. I can’t remember if she talked about the great silence, the four hundred years absent of all prophets, saviors, redemption, new scripture—but I thought of it.
I wondered what the prophets thought, how they felt. One moment maybe tingling with the electric spark of hearing words from the Holy Spirit; the next moment despondent at the depravity in the streets outside their homes. Did the excitement of knowing wear off in the waiting? Was that hope enough to sustain them when the curses of their forefathers became real in captivity, but the promises of rescue remained distant? Did the vast darkness ever seem to swallow the meager light of prophecy, to make the shining promise of a savior unreachable?
This time last year was nearly the sickest, weakest I’d been. I couldn’t sleep well; I was perennially exhausted; even a short walk could leave me too fatigued to function for half an hour or more. I remember trying to catch my breath after going up a single flight of steps. This year there are changes. I can take long walks and come home to start dinner or clean the kitchen. I can finish a morning of homeschooling with my children, and I still have energy to fold the laundry.
It was in the midst of my illness last year that a dear friend of mine began to go through her own short journey of mystery illness and fatigue. I sat next to her on the floor as she explained her symptoms and frustrations through tears, and I hugged her. It won’t always be this way, I told her. It won’t always be this way.
This year we sat together again, cozied up with blankets next to a flickering fire, and I told her how much better I felt. As I spoke, her eyes lit up and she grabbed my arm excitedly.
“Don’t you remember what you said to me last year? You said, ‘It will not always be this way.’ I never forgot that—and now I can say it back to you. It was not always going to be that way for you either.”
I remembered as she said it, I’d given her those words right out of my own years of struggle. I’d said them full of hope for her, and desperate for hope myself. And now she mirrored those words back to me from her own place of health and vitality, lighting a flame I hadn’t thought to look for in the dark.
For days after that one evening, I followed the light of those words.
It will not always be this way.
The hopelessness of the weeks before and after receded a little bit under the glimmer of her encouragement. In the moments when I wonder how, in a life filled with many good things, hope can still feel faint—in those moments I feel the resonance of her words echoing almost physically, like a bell still faintly ringing several seconds after it has been struck. And so I hold my friend’s words like a flashlight, pointed at the ground just in front of my feet. I let her shared hope illuminate one step forward at a time.
These days, I’ve stopped pointing my hope towards the vast dark sky. Isn’t it enough to see the round silver moon, beaming gently and full of promise? I don’t aim it towards the trees, looming in close through the night, throwing their winter-bare shadows in disjointed patterns. I let hope pool at my feet, round and bright, and I step forward into the light.
Gianna Soderstrom is a contributing writer to Cultivating Oaks Press and the Anselm Society, and she serves as Assistant Director of the Anselm Society Arts Guild. Adventure-hearted, but also a connoisseur of cozy, book-ish evenings, she is delighted by coffee and cocoa but shockingly, not tea. She is equally fascinated and challenged by the myriad ways that small and steady faithfulness transform a strange place into a home. She is a writer, dreamer, wife to Grant, mama to E1 and E2, and more than the sum of her parts, just like you. Gianna writes here and everywhere else to mine hope out of our ordinary moments.
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