“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you understand that life right now can feel complicated, out-of-whack, hazardous, and even overwhelming. So in light of Easter and our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, what are we to make of how life feels right now?
Cornell University gerontologist Karl Pillemer began a project in 2003 in which he has interviewed America’s eldest about what advice they would share with others. Recently, he’s been specifically asking the generation that went through the Great Depression and World War II about how to get through this current season of family isolation. The wisdom they have offered includes: “Be generous.” “Notice small joys.” “Prepare more, worry less.” “Remember that you will get past this.” Pillemer summarizes, “A morning cup of coffee, a warm bed on a winter night, a brightly colored bird feeding on the lawn, an unexpected letter from a friend, even a favorite song on the radio—paying special attention to these ‘microlevel’ events forms a fabric of happiness” that enables us to get through the most difficult of times.
Anne Lamott, in her book Almost Everything, has a chapter titled “Puzzles,” in which she meditates on life’s paradoxes. Why is it that no matter how hard we try, we know so little of the truth, yet this lack of knowing is a source of new understanding? Why is it that the worst of times often bring out the best in people (and vice versa)? How is it that some people who have experienced the most horrendous suffering can be so gracious and full of love? A paradox to which she returns time and again can be summarized like this: “Life is exceedingly difficult. Life is incredibly beautiful.” Both of these statements are simultaneously true. You can choose to ignore one or overemphasize the other. But somehow, if you are to come to terms with the reality of life, you’ll have to embrace this paradox.
In our faith, I believe that the grisly darkness of Good Friday and the luminous hope of Easter Sunday embody this paradox in ways that empower us to survive and even thrive in the rolling disaster that we call 2020. A paraphrase of Romans 5:3-5 says, “We know that trouble helps us learn not to give up. And when we have learned not to give up, it shows we have stood the test. And when we have stood the test, it gives us hope.” We start with the advice of our seniors, appreciating small gifts, enjoying simple pleasures. We then stop fighting life’s paradoxical realities, that beauty and difficulty can coexist. Finally, we discover that as we build our resilience muscles, we can endure with hope, through the power of God’s love and the Spirit who has been given to us.
He is risen. Risen indeed!