I’m a big fan of the word renewal. It’s such a hopeful word. It has such a way of evoking beautiful images – images of growth, of healing, of joy, and wholeness. I’ve always done my best to live in a way that embodies renewal, and that embodies a hope for what hasn’t yet, but will one day, be restored. And yet for much of my life, I don’t know that I’ve actually understood what the word means. For most of my life, I held joy and hope, and goodness and renewal as buttresses against the sheer overwhelming nature of our lives; shields against the pain, hardship, and anguish that all of us inevitably face. I thought renewal was what you focused on to make what wasn’t renewed bearable. I’ve held tight to those embodiments of positivity because I was afraid that to let go of them – even for a second – was to invite in a seed of doubt that could never truly be chased away. I was afraid that if you didn’t meet pain with laughter, grief with joy, or despair with hope, that you would inevitably hand over control of your life to those feelings of struggle, pain, and loss. I didn’t think those things could exist together and was afraid that to truly feel one, meant to give up the other. My renewal came in seeing that fear for the lie that it is.
For most of my life I’ve had joint problems. At most points, it’s been difficult, and at a few specific points, it’s been nearly unbearable. I had five joints replaced in High School and have been recovering physically, emotionally, and spiritually ever since. That experience changed me fundamentally in a way that I wasn’t able to accept for a long time, because, for me, hope isn’t something I’ve just adopted over time. It’s a deep, fundamental part of who I am. I’m inherently a joyful, hopeful person, yet the experience of having those joints replaced instilled in me an almost equally fundamental disposition: there are pains that cannot be outrun. Pains that cannot be overcome in the same way that bad habits or uncomfortable situations can be overcome. Pains that become a part of you and shape you. Pains that haunt you.
For such a long time, I couldn’t reconcile those two parts of myself. On the one hand, a deep and authentic joy in the world and hope in the future, and on the other hand an equally deep and authentic knowledge that that future might bring with it pain and hardship that runs the risk of ruining us. I didn’t know how to live in light of both of those things, and so, somewhat naturally, I shut out the hardship. I looked to hope and joy and laughter as the only real means of control over a situation that presented me fully and completely as a being not in control. And as understandable as it may have been as a response, it was still a bad one. Because the fact is we can acknowledge and feel and be overcome by the pain that accompanies us in this world without being controlled by it. We can acknowledge the pain without letting go of the hope.
In one of my favourite parts of scripture we see Christ himself come to the end of His rope, calling out in the garden of Gethsemane for His Father to keep the pain away, even as He knows the full hope and joy of the sacrifice He is about to make. We see our Saviour King cry out into the night against all the pain, suffering, and anguish of this world. Then we see Him walk forward towards renewal. I am deeply moved by this passage. It’s in this passage that I found my own renewal. It’s in this passage that I found permission to acknowledge the hardship of the pains we go through without letting go of the hope that Christ instills in us. Because that’s what Christ did at that moment. He acknowledged, with every aspect of His being, the pain of what He was about to endure without ever giving up hope and belief in the greatness of what was to come.
That’s my story of renewal. A story that isn’t over yet, but one that I see God moving in and working through constantly. A story of beginning to understand the paradoxical nature of life lived in light of both pain and joy. A story of understanding that grief and hope can exist in the same moment. And a story of understanding that true renewal acknowledges both the good and the bad, and that through that, we’ll truly begin to see ourselves as the beings God has made us to be.