Hope scarred me.
I was scrolling a worship leaders Instagram account tonight and saw a post where he was pleading his followers prayers for a little boy. He was “speaking life” over this child whose kidneys are failing. I clicked away to a post where another worship artist spoke confidently of this child’s healing. She said they would rest and let god work.
I hope the boy recovers. Truly, I do.
But I don’t hope for it the way I used to. I remembered tonight the way I used to hope. I would pray with a certainty that left me soaring in confidence that god would act. That full restoration would come. I would pray with certainty but also desperation as though the doors of heaven required my pounding. That kind of prayer, that kind of hope, always made my stomach drop.
For a brief moment tonight that feeling visited me. I’m often slow to recognize a flashback when I have one. As I began writing this narrative I felt myself drifting out of my body, dissociating, staring at my hands like they are some kind of alien life form. I’m writing to stay grounded.
My middle name is Hope. It’s something I have struggled to own for many years of my life. I often find myself hoping against my better judgment. I’m a romantic, an optimist, I want things to work out. The strain of charismatic evangelicalism I was a part of for over 20 years cultivated that propensity toward hope to an extreme. I would pray and focus and meditate on certain outcomes: healings, relationships restored, salvation for others, destruction of others, financial gains, demonic exorcisms… and in these prayers there was no room for doubt. As a woman my examples were Hannah, pray with persistence, Rachel, give me what I ask lest I die, Mary, let it be unto me as you will. For some things I prayed for years, faithfully.
If ever those prayers and hopes were not fulfilled my focus always turned inward. If I was not to blame for gods inaction then what was I to learn? What grand lesson would he teach me that I would be compelled to share with others as a consolation prize for their shattered hearts?
It felt false. But I had to believe. I despised anything and anyone that felt false, so to compensate for that I put my heart and soul in to believing. There was no choice. This was the only truth. I was in too deep.
There was no space for grief or pain when you were perpetually hoping and desperately praying for miraculous healing from negative and non-Christian emotions. Grief was only allowed when grieving for lost souls. Pain was only allowed when identifying with Christ on the cross. Resurrection already occurred and that was the goal. There was an unspoken 3 day limit on any kind of sorrow. You don’t need medication. Come out of the tomb. He is risen and what kind of witness are you if you haven’t? It doesn’t matter if it’s true. Come out and testify and our praise will make it feel true. It worked. Until it didn’t anymore.
It wasn’t until after I left the cult that the veil of certainty began to unravel. For the first time my prayers became self-focused. I begged god for healing for my heart and mind that were ravaged by Complex Post Traumatic Stress. My symptoms were largely held at bay by the regimented prayer routines I followed for decades. I allowed myself to grieve. I faced and embraced the pain I’d piously held off. I worked, hard, to heal. And I prayed. Still. Desperately, for the pain to cease. I prayed when I woke up covered in sweat from nightmares of horrors I was loathe to remember. I prayed when panic threatened to drown me. When I couldn’t face it any longer on my own I reached out to friends and asked them to pray, privately. I told a friend that I was clinging to god with every shred of hope in my body.
After over 2 years post-cult that pain was still raw. There’s a Proverb that says hope deferred makes the heart sick. I was hoping for healing as my heart sank into depression I tried to ignore. I dragged myself out of bed one February night and stood in the rain to attend a worship night with the aforementioned leaders. I watched them pray over members of the audience. I heard stories of supposed healings that took place that night. I felt hope and disappointment at war within me. I was tired of fighting for my healing when others were handed theirs on a platter. The veil was tearing from the bottom up. Within 6 months I left for L’abri as a final attempt to repair the damage done.
Nine months later I prayed for the last time to that god I’d given everything to. And I felt a weight thrown off. Instead of always feeling as though I was falling short of the glory of god by not grasping the healing promised, I accepted my pain for what it was. I stopped hoping it would go away by some miracle and then I made tangible strides in healing. I began telling my story instead of covering it over with sticky sweet hopeful platitudes meant to convert the unfaithful.
These days I’m much more practical about the things I hope for. If someone I care for is sick, I hope for the best outcome but I also prepare myself for the worst and plan ways to be present for the people who will need support the most. I will not be the person who “speaks life”… I will be the person who asks if you are sad or scared and holds you while we cry.
It’s been two years since I stopped praying. In the time since I’ve learned that prayer requests can be replaced by vulnerability. Telling your friends you are struggling and asking for their support is so much more difficult than asking for prayer ever was. And I’ve grown so much from learning to do it. Having my friend reach for my hand and cry for me when I didn’t even have tears was more meaningful than the most earnest prayer offered on my behalf.
I’m learning to hope again. It’s hard for me to admit I want something I have no control over bringing to bear. Hope was hollow for me for so long that I’m skittish of getting close to it. But if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that I can survive the deepest heartbreak and learn to live well again. I may no longer be able to pray but hope…
Hope is still my middle name. And it will never be cliche for me.