My sister and I had early career aspirations to either join the circus as aerial acrobats, or follow in the footsteps of Evel Knievel. We loved to watch both as they tempted gravity and soared through the air. We decided to start our training. I think I was five, and my sister was seven. We had a bunk bed. Already the parents reading this are sucking in their breath and thinking, “oh, no.” That is the correct response. We piled pillows on the floor next to the bunk bed. We didn’t begin practice with a few warm up jumps, but instead opted to start at the top bunk, do a summersault in midair and land on the pillows. My sister offered me the first turn (I have always had the sneaking suspicion that she was, and is, smarter than me.)
I climbed to the top bunk. Our bunk bed was not a standard size. It was a homemade hodgepodge, specially crafted by our dad, and towered toward the ceiling. It was later dismantled, at my Mom’s stern request, and rebuilt in a smaller, lower to the ground version. I pulled myself up to the launching pad, took one last look down and then threw myself off the bed, diving into a perfect roll before hitting the ground. I did manage to hit the pillow pile, but that didn’t seem to matter. I was on the floor, on my back, a strange crushing sensation in my chest, and wondering if I was dead. I knew I couldn’t breathe. My sister was standing over my body, looking very pale. Then she yelled, “Mom!” I knew I must be dead if she felt compelled to call for mom.
That was the first time I experienced getting the wind knocked out of me. It happened again the day I hung upside down by my knees from the jungle gym at my elementary school, slipped, landed on my face and broke my nose. And again when I decided to swing as high as I could on the swing at the park and then launch myself into the air. This may also have been my sister’s idea. I am now a firm believer in helmets for kids, and not just while they are riding their bikes. And maybe they should keep them on well into their twenties.
It is a terrible feeling, having the wind knocked out of you, and it is the closest physical description I know to describe the experience of losing hope, usually after the death of something central to our being, a dream, a future, a loved one. When the news is fresh, there is shock, a sudden loss of all sense of place or breathe, a sharp sucker punch, and everything stands still while you try to figure out whether or not you can exhale. These thoughts have surfaced as I mourn with friends who have recently lost loved ones, or are facing their own trials. It is hard to take, and hard to watch others go through it. I wish there was an easy answer, a shortcut through pain and grief, but it is a long, sometimes grueling process …but not one without hope.
How can we have hope during dark times? I read an interesting psalm, Psalm 88. The writer is facing death and trouble and in his final sentence he writes, “the darkness is my closest friend” (v. 18b), all else has been taken away. Why is this Psalm, so full of despair, in the Bible? There is a study note in my Bible’s small print. It focuses on the very first sentence of this psalm, “O LORD, the God who saves me.” The note states, “The psalm recalls the fact that although sometimes godly persons live lives of unremitting trouble, they can still grasp the hope that God is Savior.” (The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan*). God is Savior! When all is going wrong, when our earthly hopes are dimmed, God is still God, and at his very heart he loves and saves. We can still have hope in God and his unchanging character. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5). This is active love, eternal love, a love that cannot be taken away, even by the darkness. When everything else fails, God’s personal love for us remains, giving us an unfailing reason for hope.
*The NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, Copyright © 1995 by Zondervan Publishing House, p. 872.