I was on a ferry in Connecticut 15 years ago when a man jumped overboard and committed suicide. My heart ached for that stranger whose name I did not know. The tragic episode made me deeply question how cruel and sad a world we must live in that some people feel life is not worth living. It made me question my own life and wonder if anything could drive me to such despair if the blessings were plucked out of my existence one by one. How does life become so black that one can no longer see the light at all? At which point does death start looking prettier than life?
I’m by no means a psychologist, but I think part of the problem is that we were suckled on fraudulent notions of what life is all about and grew up on fairytales that promised “happily ever after” endings. We are taught that if we behave we will be rewarded and if we do wrong we will be struck by the plague. But then life happens and we are ill equipped to discover that it isn’t always fair, that good guys don’t get the breaks, and that the pie in sky can leave you with a serious case of indigestion.
From disappointment to disappointment we hop along as the sun begins to set and retract its warmth only to be replaced by chilly intimidating shadows. The last place we can find to warm our hearts and hands is over the roaring fire called hope, without which the darkness becomes a gravitational abyss from which we cannot extricate ourselves.
Interestingly, it is at this time of year when the nights are longest and darkness seems to prevail that we read about the story of Joseph, who found himself in the darkness of the pit into which his brother’s cast him and then later in the darkness of Pharaoh’s dungeon. What truly did he have to live for? One day he was the beloved favorite son of Jacob; the next day his brothers sold him into slavery.
Joseph had grown up on the fairytales of his own dreams, which saw him ruling over his brothers. But from the purview of the pit he saw no “happily ever after” ending for himself. They had stripped him of his coat of many colors, also taking from him his pride, his innocence, and the years he could have been by his father’s side. In some measure they killed everything about him, except hope. Luckily, hope knows not shackles or taskmasters or pits or self pity—it sees only the light. The Bible teaches us something very interesting about Joseph’s attitude throughout his great suffering. The dungeon to which he is condemned is called “Beit Hasohar,” the “house of light” Even in the depths of a dark dungeon, Joseph maintained his faith in God, he remained optimistic and hopeful and he created his own “light.”
We must learn to do the same as we go through our own trials and tribulations. Instead of waiting in despair to find the light, BE the light! With laser-like intensity keep hope shining until it cuts right through the “dungeon” wall. It is a sin to succumb to despair and it is idol worship to believe that life is only worth living when we are riding high.
No, life is not about having fairytale endings. It’s about facing the hardships with grace, elevating the lowest moments instead of letting them bring you down; it’s about realizing that no matter what is taken from you, they can never take YOU. It’s about believing relentlessly that the sun never sets if it lives inside of you.