Finding Faith in Goodness Despite Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Midwinter is upon us and with it, the New Year and celebrations of the coming of the light. We sing and set flame to candles in the dark, symbolizing our faith in goodness and our hope for tomorrow. We know that light is coming, know that each day grows a little longer and soon, winter gives way to spring and new life. But there are times when connecting to goodness, to the knowledge that light will come and to a hope for tomorrow feels impossible, blocked by pain and feelings of despair and we wonder if we will ever believe in joy again, feel joy again.
"Have faith," they say in the moments when you've finally lost your composure and share the darkness and fear inside with friends and loved ones. "You have to believe," they add, not understanding that the pain has taken not just your sense of humor and your stiff upper lip, but also your belief that it will ever change. They don't understand that it feels so dark because the pain has taken your faith in tomorrow, as well.
Although faith is a word most often used to describe a belief in a divine being, it is not that exclusively. Faith is optimism, a belief that you are not in a freefall towards a splat against the concrete or that if you are, something (or someone) will intervene, serving as a safety net against the impact. Faith gets you through the hard times, faith tells you that it will be all right, enabling you to hold on to hope. Faith is the light of a small candle in a dark cavern, leading the way towards the sunshine beyond.
In the nursing home where my father spent the last year of his life suffering from dementia, there was a bulletin board for religious services and activities. On this board, there was a small blue piece of paper with the following words: "It is never a question of faith or no faith, but in what or whom you place your faith." I've never forgotten that quote. During a time when it was difficult to believe that anything would ever be all right again and when, frankly, I regularly yelled at whatever deity might accept responsibility for doing this horrible thing to my dad, this little quote on a small piece of paper reminded me that peace could be found in other places, as well. It reminded me that if one kind of hope was blocked, I could take a step to the side and find it still. And I found it in the love our family had for one another, a love that shone in a time of darkness and pain, shone brighter than it ever had before. Shone so brightly exactly because of the pain and I realized that without darkness, you can't see the light.
Hard times ebb and flow with good times, alternating turns, one giving way to the other and then back again, in a lifelong dance. Being happy during times of good is easy, finding hope and optimism during the crappy times, remembering that good tends to follow bad, requires looking closely at the edges of the dark. And it is there that you can find a quiet grace or small moments of effervescent joy to keep you company. Hard times bring out the best in people - a friend holds your hand through a night of crying, sharing your fear and loneliness and in so doing, makes it less. A neighbor drops off a covered dish because she knows you have trouble cooking or you do the same, despite the pain, for the man down the street who's lost a loved one. A woman moves on to another medication and leaves most of a bottle of expensive pills with your rheumatologist for someone who'll need it and you are that someone. And a ray of winter sunshine hits the snow in just the right way, making it sparkle so brilliantly it takes your breath away. Moments that remind you of the good, remind you of balance, tell you that we are not alone and as one moment opens the door to the light, you see another moment and then another and hope blossoms.
Beauty is out there. Love is out there. And in the decency and love within the people around you and deep within yourself lies all the faith you'll ever need.
You can read more of Lene's writing on The Seated View.