Bludgeoned with Hope / by Michael Nichols

Happy! :D

Okay. Weird way to start an article. What did you think of? The over-played pop song? The Beatles? The '70s? Okay. Now I'm being a little cliche.

If you watch daytime television, or heck, if you have a Facebook account, odds are you see dozens of cliches on a daily basis. **These are some that you've probably heard, but aren't even close to the sum of all the inspirational quotes in the world:

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

"This too shall pass."

"It was God's will."

"Everything happens for a reason."

"The safest place to be is in the center of God's will."

"When all else fails, read the instruction manual."

"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

"God helps those who help themselves."

"You can never say yes if you always say no."

"Cleanliness is next to godliness."

One cool thing about cliches is that they survive. That's the whole point. It's something cool that someone said once, and it stuck. The same goes for inspirational, look-on-the-bright-side type writings. Don't deny it. You've seen them. All. The. Time. Facebook is peppered with ambient photos with reassuring and reaffirming captions. And they're usually pretty great. People need them on some level; otherwise, they would not have stuck. It's the same reason we carry a flashlight, why children (heck, even adults sometimes) sleep with a night light. We need something to guide the way, something to defeat the dark.

That's really the greatest thing about the Gospel. In Christ, we find something to believe in despite the treacherous world around us, hope despite rainy forecasts, and love despite loneliness. But Jesus didn't just speak a bunch of cheesy, inspirational, happy, go-lucky statements. He wasn't just trying to make His audience feel good, or heck, even feel better. He was just telling the truth, often times going against the trends of those who appeared and claimed to have it all together. That doesn't make a person feel better. I mean who likes to be informed that they need to repent of their pride? Who likes to be reminded that the things we enjoy in this life are temporary, especially if we aren't placing our hope in the eternal? And nobody likes to be informed that things are probably only going to become worse in a lot of ways, that they may never turn around before heaven.

But then if the Gospel is true, don't people need to know? Isn't a little discomfort worth the saving of souls, the changing of lives from something broken to something complete? Shouldn't Christ followers be okay with potential backlash?

Outside of the fact that most of our cliche declarations and exhortations are riddled with logical gaps--I'm not going there--they can get on a person's nerves rather quickly. Why? Is it because of the aforementioned logical gaps? Is it because they've just been repeated so many times? Or is it something else, like some traumatic experience that let you know that a cliche is just a cliche, and that the rosy colored lens might be more the shade of blood? How often, when we immerse ourselves in inspirational media, cute pictures, reality TV, and all of these fantasies of other people's lives, are we really giving ourselves encouragement; and how often are we simply bludgeoning ourselves with longing and discontent, using the hope of others and the pain in ourselves as a means to justify the mutual alienation of each other?

But is it not a bit hasty to cynically rip apart the idea of hope and, in a sense, narrow-minded to think that hope is confined to our own ideas of how it should look? I've known hope to show up in numerous lives of friends and my own in numerous unexpected ways, hope that looked like the children a mother still has with her after a divorce rocks the family, like the community and comfort created in a disconnected family only by the power of the loss of a beloved father, grandfather, and father-in-law. Hope doesn't look like death or divorce, but it can look like what has been left behind. Furthermore, are the lives of those around us really that great? Doesn't everyone struggle? Though a person may not be a slave to poor financial status, decaying life circumstances, or the like, all of us still have to fight to keep the things we love, even if the things we love do us more harm than good, and even if it's an unhealthy kind of love. Struggle is happening at all times in all people in all places.

And it's okay to struggle. It's okay to not be okay. Go ahead. Feel terrible. Feel miserable. Feel like your world is crashing into the sun. It may very well be. Just be honest. People around you might be happy, and it's not that we intend to bring people down or burden them with our struggles... but honestly, if we all struggle, why not bear one another's burdens? And how can we do this without being perfectly honest with how not okay we are?

** These quotes we submitted by friends on my personal Facebook profile. Special thanks to them for their contributions.