“May this careful look at pain in the context of Jesus’s life open up avenues of discovery and healing.”—Mindy Caliguire, cofounder and president of Soul Care
We all experience difficulties and hardships. But how can we learn to live richly in the midst of them? And even grow spiritually because of them? The answer is found in the hopeful humanity of Jesus.
As the Son of God, Jesus wasn’t exempt from suffering, disappointment, or injustice. He lived in the real world as a real person. He wept for those he loved. He felt hunger and thirst. He endured temptation, betrayal, and ridicule. He died after being unjustly tortured. And somehow through it all, he embodied hope—by defeating death and opening a new world of life for us.
In Echoing Hope, influential pastor and blogger Kurt Willems reveals how understanding the humanity of Jesus can radically transform our identity and empower us to step into our pain-filled world in a new way. Combining rich theological insight with personal stories and practices for response, he shows how we can overcome despair and encounter the beautiful potential of our lives.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.12(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.65(d)|
About the Author
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Where Is Jesus?
The problem of pain meets its match in the scandal of grace. —Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Joy and pain aren’t enemies. They’re companions. The highs and lows of life dance together more often than we’d like to admit. When life graces us with contentment, we may feel enticed to ignore hidden layers of struggle. When stress bombards our momentary happiness, it’s as though those gifts that energized us are now elusive, like oil through our fingers. Joy and pain, hope and anguish, stability and disruption—these stand shoulder to shoulder in the real world. As a generally optimistic person, it’s taken me years to see that my positive outlook was directly shaped by an insecure childhood. But it wasn’t all bad.
In 1994, I was a lanky fourth grader with two front teeth that hardly fit my face and unruly hair that was either styled as a flattop or forced to succumb to Grandma’s Wahl clippers. Yet I was a generally cute kid according to most of the pictures.
California’s Central Valley was home. Sunshine and outdoor play, rec league sports, playdates (we didn’t call them that back then), the churning of Grandpa’s homemade ice cream, trampoline dunk contests with uncles and cousins, occasional trips to the mall’s toy store, and swimming pools to cool me down—these frequently cultivated joy and grit in me as a child.
My parents divorced when I was a toddler, and in the years after, Mom had primary custody and Dad cared for me every other weekend. Not an ideal arrangement for any child, but having both parents in your life—even if not in the same household—is a gift that not all share.
On New Year’s Day of my fourth-grade year, Dad remarried and asked me to be his best man. Although we were somewhat deprived of time together, we had a great relationship. At home with Mom, joy and pain coexisted in a more obvious way. With a new boyfriend entering our lives when I was about four, the joy she brought to me as a nurturing mother was intertwined with the pain of abuse. There was fear. There was joy. The greatest blessing during those years were the gifts of a younger brother and sister. Many of my early memories involve us being silly or having adventures together. My brother and sister are six and eight years younger, so being “Bubba” to them was a role I took pride in.
I’d later learn that my brother and sister didn’t show up on our doorstep as gifts from a stork. They were the beautiful gifts that came from a tragic relationship. From about 1989 until 1995, Mom endured an abusive relationship. I doubt it started that way, but I can’t recall a time when he felt like a safe presence. With him, my primary emotion was fear. Numerous times, Mom was abused physically and verbally in front of me. I saw it all. I experienced his violence directly at times as well.
One situation shortly after Dad’s wedding sticks with me, and it isn’t unlike other stories of abuse from those years. I can describe it from the perspective of all five senses because that’s how vivid this memory is to me. (Even now as I type, tears are starting to well up.)
Recalling the place and time in my mind, I can feel it. The fear sweeping over my body as I lay in my lofted bed as a fourth-grade kiddo. The feeling of being smacked in the face about three times as I lay helpless.
The memory is also something I can see. The flash of light—although difficult to describe—that seems like it happened milliseconds before the hand impacted my face. The wall of my bedroom that I faced to try to escape the danger. The blurs fading in and out as tears clouded my vision. The window in my room that faced the street, perhaps the next level of escape if I dared try.
I can still hear this moment of abuse. The screams of my mom pleading with her boyfriend to stop hitting her and to leave me alone. The shaming yell of being called a bastard. The slamming of a treasured picture frame containing a recent image of me and my dad posing, as groom and best man, for the wedding album. The shredding sound of the photo being ripped into pieces.
The smell stays with me as well. The musty scent of an old pillow as I buried my face to protect myself from a possible second wave of violence.
I also taste the intensity of this moment. The salty drizzle flowing down my cheeks toward my mouth. The bitter flavor that comes when you’ve been force-fed an overdose of trauma.
I remember how it ended each time too: with the loud roar of a motorcycle driving away. I was safe, for now.
As much as I have wanted to forget that moment when my mom’s long-term boyfriend came home drunk and beat her and smacked me, it lingers. The scars are real. They will always be there, no matter how much the wounds might heal. Pain and joy didn’t coexist in that moment. Only pain that echoed in my inner emptiness. My helplessness. Fear. Anger. It was like my home life was a dark cave from which escape was momentary, only to be confined to the darkness again and again. I knew Jesus when I was at church, but did he know me when I was at home? Many times I felt all alone, wondering if my vacant cries for rescue would be answered.
Your Pain Is Real
Where is Jesus when life hurts? Where is the echoing hope that interrupted reality two thousand years ago? Pain reminds us that hope brings a longing for what isn’t healed yet. No matter your context in life, you have pain. Challenges in life are inevitable. I’ve faced anguishes that look quite different than yours, and vice versa. Comparing pain is like comparing our worst injuries. Both situations leave us with broken bones. Nothing is fixed by such a contrast.
Sometimes we use our pain to compensate for our insecurities (The reason I’m not like her is because I had this disadvantage and she didn’t) or to boost ourselves up as the underdog (I had it hard and I’m winning anyway!). We might minimize our struggles in comparison to the “real issues” of the day (Well, my struggles really don’t matter since there are people in the world who don’t have enough food to eat). Our pain might even attract attention by making others feel bad for us (My boss is so horrible; look at how he treats me).
Pain is contextualized by the privileges (or lack thereof) that we are born into, but the truth is that seemingly hopeless circumstances eventually present themselves to us all. Owning our pain (ideally within the context of a supportive community) is the first step toward healing. In my journey, after neglecting my struggles—or rather, after having become as healed from my past wounds as I could be with the spiritual and emotional resources I’d attained up until then—I came to a tipping point. Pain presented as anxiety. I didn’t know what to do. Most of my life I have struggled with anxiety, but I’d either muscle through it or ignore it. I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I needed help and longed for wholeness. Therapy was the next step.
Looking for Jesus in Pain
In a ten-by-twenty room on the fourth floor of yet another expression of Seattle construction, I confronted insecurities, blind spots, and unhealed wounds. Every other week I opened up to the deeper parts of my story—those wounds that I believed were already miraculously healed but which festered just below the surface of my consciousness. That room proved to be sacred space, where my therapist (who also had training as a spiritual director) mediated God’s love for me through just the right mix of invitation and challenge.
In our modern world, the imagination is often dismissed as childish. What a mistake. I’ve discovered that it’s powerful. In fact, imagination gives us the space we need to reconsider the past, reimagine the future, and reclaim the present. The imagination is a place where we can attune our hearts to the deepest realities of our lives with God.
In our modern world, the imagination is often dismissed as childish. What a mistake. I’ve discovered that it’s powerful.
In the Christian tradition, there’s a set of spiritual growth resources that was popularized by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order. Ignatian contemplation encourages readers to step into a biblical story and imagine the scene with all five senses. He invited his students to “compose the place” in their imaginations so they could experience the story with Jesus in a deeper way. Sometimes you might find yourself relating to a character in the story; at other times perhaps you are watching from the gathered crowd. But in the imagination, something profoundly real takes place: you can experience Jesus in ways that are experientially more concrete.
Another way this devotional practice can be applied is to take a memory from one’s life and “compose the place,” inviting God to breathe fresh insights into our souls. James Martin, SJ, said, “God may invite you to remember something that consoles or delights you. What is God saying to you through those consoling memories?” Some use a version of this practice to pray through painful memories.
With this framework, when the time was right, my therapist suggested a spiritual formation exercise. Just like the suggestion to go the gym and exercise, I thought about it long before I ever acted on it. One day when I was at home, during a moment of quiet inspiration, I thought, Let’s give this a go.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Jesus, Pain, and Becoming Human xix
Part 1 An Echoing Pain
1 Where Is Jesus? 3
2 Just in Case You Haven't Noticed, Something's Wrong 13
3 Human…Like Jesus? 25
4 Why Suffering? 38
Part 2 Finding Jesus in the Echoes
5 Vulnerable Courage 55
6 Embraced and Empowered 68
7 God in the Desert 80
8 Normal Isn't Negative 90
Part 3 An Echoing Hope for Real Life
9 Love in Advance 101
10 Trampling Fear 119
11 The Process of Presence 131
12 Releasing the Stones 143
Part 4 An Echoing, Risky Love
13 When God Weeps 157
14 The Cup and the Copeless 171
15 The Goodness of Friday 185
16 Garden of Hope 197