Despair and Hope

I find the relationship linking despair and hope to be fascinating. I just left the doctor for my monthly checkup. I’m on a very high dose of a very powerful drug (I won’t say which), but it provides little relief from my pain.

As I’ve said before, multiple doctors have confirmed that there is no solution for the causes of my pain: no surgery, no injections that we haven’t tried, no therapies, no magic pills. In short, my brokenness cannot be solved. I’ve come to peace with that fact, but it is nonetheless an unpleasant one. For me, the only long term plan is short term pain management.

I participate in some varied online forums. One is a forum dedicated to those of us with fibromyalgia. We call ourselves fibromites, and men being such an anomaly in the fibromyalgia world, I coined the term fibromates to describe those of us with the XY chromosomes. That forum is great. It gives us a group of peers that understand the struggles. It gives us a place to vent, complain, gripe, and moan. But more importantly, it gives us a positive environment for gentle hugs (figuratively). The community is one of uplifting and realistic optimism. We can seek advice and feedback from those who will be more helpful than the ol’ “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” feedback that is all too common toward the disabled communities.

Another forum is dedicated to those of us who struggle with chronic pain in general. A larger community gives us a greater spectrum of feedback and opinion. There are some who deal with neurological conditions, like fibromyalgia, and others with skeletal, muscular, or other conditions, including depression and anxiety. As you can imagine, at least on the surface, this is a more appropriate community for one like me: one who has neurological disorders, as well as muscular and skeletal disabilities, topped off with psychological or emotional disorders; in short, one who is in constant, chronic pain.

The sad truth truth concerning this second forum, however, is that the atmosphere is greatly different than the first. While the fibromyalgia forum is one of positive reinforcement and uplifting optimism, the chronic pain forum is negatively reinforcing. As you can imagine, for those who struggle constantly with the basic tasks of life, depression can set in pretty quickly, and even more powerfully. There, optimistic and hopeful comments are scoffed at and scorned. Weekly I see posts by people who literally are throwing in the proverbial towel: declaring in one open form or another “I can’t handle this pain anymore, I want to and am planning to die.” I mean that there is no equivocation and I’m not reading between the lines, there are literally people declaring the desire and/or plan for suicide. And worse, the community, in its complete understanding, supports the poster with morbid empathy, telling them that their decision is not only understandable, but perhaps even wise.

Empathetically, I understand the desire for death in the lowest of the lows. While these circumstances have never brought me to a suicidal point, I do understand. Even this morning, talking with Jeff, my exceptional pain specialist, I felt near despairing for that sentiment. The cold truth is that, as strong as my medications are, the best I can ever expect from them is about a %50 reduction in pain (and that’s just for my back, as these medications don’t and can’t address the fibromyalgia). I don’t get that much relief; I’m closer to %26-%30 reduction in pain… and that’s about as good as it gets. This truth is discouraging. Even if I make the (incorrect) assumption that my back will never worsen, my pain levels are about as low as they will ever be.

So I understand the desire for the pain to end at any cost… But I can’t agree with it. As Lehi said:

 “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.”

In other words, without misery, there can be no joy. Without despair, there can be no hope. So we finally come to the fascinating relationship: there must be ‘opposition in all things.”

God doesn’t give us trials, pain, and misery; rather, he allows those things and turns them to our benefit if we turn to Him. Another prophet of God also empathized with despair:

“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?…  O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol–stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward [me].”

But in His wisdom, God replied:

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee… with warm hearts and friendly hands.”

So we see in His great Plan of Happiness that trial, tribulation, pain, misery, suffering and even the lowest despair are all allowed to exist in order to provide contrast to the joy, happiness, peace, comfort, salvation and hope that are to be found by the redeeming atonement of the Great Son of God.

I wish I could share this hope with those of my fellow sufferers on the chronic pain forum, but the voice of hope is regrettably not a welcome one. So I write instead here, where I dictatorially control what voices are allowed 😉.

I worry that the topic is heavy, but so is the burden that we all carry, whether you deal with physical pain or not, we all have burdens, trials, and pain. And all of us feel overwhelmed by it sometimes – that’s why understanding the relationship between pain and relief, between sadness and happiness, between despair and hope, is so important. That’s why we have hope: so that we can know the contrast between what we feel and experience now and what we can obtain through the promise of Him who took our burdens upon Himself.

Hope exists, not because we want it to, but because it is the very law of Nature: there must be opposition in all things.

So, my friends, don’t despair. There is hope for relief, even for those of us with the promise of none: after the time of trial, comes the reward of the faithful. Jesus Christ lives. He carried our burdens, so that we might be free of them eventually.

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Quality vs Worth: The Value of Life

Lately, I’ve had some questions from some readers, they are usually variations of this: “Jared, how do you stay so positive with all that is going on that is negative?” 

Sometimes they’re closer to “how do you do it? I don’t think I could keep going if I had ‘x,'” but I assume that, rather than suggesting I should off myself, these questions fit in with the first.

So I want to take a minute to address this question.
First, as is the nature of social media, you don’t often see the lows, if for no other reason than that when I’m really struggling, the last thing I want to do is to write. This is normal, by the way, which is why if we look through the Facebook pages of our high school classmates, we can reasonably assume that every one of them is financially successful, purely joyful, and traveling the world on peace missions, in short, that everyone but ourselves have found the key to happiness. And maybe some have, but I expect that a poll of those people would show that most of them feel like the world is in various stages of collapsing around them, while everyone else has it together. This is the lie of Facebook.

You, as the reader, don’t see nights I spend silently weeping to myself because I’m exhausted to the point of collapse, but am kept awake by the intense pain in my back and or nerves. I try to hide those low moments, even from my wife.  You, as the reader, don’t see me desperately, but without success, try to wake myself up once I’ve finally fallen asleep because the drug induced, hallucination like night terrors. You, as the reader, don’t see me curled up in a ball desperately wondering what the point of it all is. You don’t see the state of my house (that’s no accident…) because I can’t keep up with my chores.

So what is the point of it all? How do I stay positive? Well, the short answer is that I’m not always positive. I’m often angry and bitter about my lot in life (it’s not a lot, but it’s a life… Yuk yuk yuk). But it’s critical to understand the end goal. Life is not made to live from one moment of temporary excitement or high to the next: life is is about happiness, not excitement. But more importantly, life is meant to be a trying test.

This may not really answer the questions, in truth, the thought isn’t really well developed. I don’t struggle with the bitterness of depression, so I can’t speak to the power that it holds over the sound of its victims… Except I have felt that depression. My first buy of advise for those of you dealing with overwhelming depression, or depression that never goes Away (maybe it waxes and wanes, but is always present… Like a stupid song in the back of your mind….) first things first: speak to your doctor. I’ve found it helpful to write down my thoughts before a doctor’s visit (and I have lots of the ) – this helps me not forgot anything. Depressive disorder is crippling, but it’s also not just you: it’s a real medical condition and it can be treated. Please, if I’m describing you here, never free of the blues, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. It can be better.

But assuming that one’s chemistry is under control, we have to look at some of the other causes of misery: at the risk of sounding like a preacher, often we feel like bad people because, well… we are…. if we are living our lives free of the bother of moral compass, we might (or should) feel bad about ourselves. That’s not depression, it’s conscience. When I have not been right with my wife, or with my kids, or with my Lord, I have not been more than temporarily happy. It’s a feeling that I can’t shake, and no matter how great I may feel for a moment, it always fades back to a disappointing base. So we spent last week preparing for Resurrection Sunday – we repented of our sins, and we sought  to make amends to those whom we have wronged. If you didn’t follow us on that journey, it’s not too late: begin the process of being right with God. If you don’t believe, then at least make sure that you are right with everyone else (not quite the same, but a big first step).  

Next, forgiveness is critical. Again, I’m sure, I sound like a preacher, but not without cause. Once we’ve repented of our sins, we need to move on. We need to trust God that He has forgiven them. Sometimes the memory of that sin can come back to bite us a long time later- especially if it was particularly egregious, but trust isn’t a one off type of thing: I don’t just trust my wife once: I trust her always. The same is true with our heavenly relationships: we don’t just trust God to forgive us once, we must actively work toward the trust that He continually forgives us.  Sometimes the people that we have wronged don’t forgive us, even when we have truly repented. I’d love to say “move on, they aren’t worth your time anyway.” But I’d be lying… At least with some people. Unlike the Father, we are not perfect, and being forgiven isn’t guaranteed with our fellow man like it is with Him. If we have really repented, however, we recognize and accept that their non-forgiveness may be a consequence of our actions. We just move on the best we can. And finally, we need to accept and forgive ourselves. I’ve found that no one holds a grudge against me like I do. I find myself loathing actions from decades ago: “couldn’t I be a little kinder?” “Couldn’t I have responded better.” – but moving on with our lives means that we have to forgive ourselves, after we have done everything we can to correct the problem. 

If we have are chemically balanced correctly, we have a clean conscience, and we have accepted the forgiveness of God, sought the forgiveness of others (and accepted whichever response they chose) and forgiven ourselves; once we have done all of those things, then we can tackle the rest:

Life sucks. There. I said it. Life is full of pain, misery, sorrow, weakness, impossible choices, dirty laundry, and burned dinners. All of those things happen even if we have been forgiven, are making righteous decisions, and aren’t depressed. So what’s the point?

I wanted it share an analogy complete with home video. I even found the old 30 second clip in all it’s 144p glory (from my first camera phone…) but sadly the sound is corrupted, and without my shrieks of agony, you’d never be able to see from the video only that you were watching me get tazed (oops, spilled the beans on that one.)

But how do we answer the point of this life? Simply put, just as I willingly was tazed because I needed to understand the power of the tool, we willingly agreed to this life so we could have the experience of it: dirty socks and all.

How the do I stay positive despite being in constant physical pain? How do I sit in my chair (I’ve been unable to sleep more than an hour of three in a bed for years), shivering because I have the window open to the sleeting cold in order to counteract the sweats of the medicine and leather of my chair? How do I find joy despite being unable to move for a great portion of the day? How do I feel whole despite being broken in every significant measurable physical measure (and many mental measurements)? How do I live when living is without… Wait, turning off the country music station on Pandora… Okay, better: how do I have a sense of humor despite… Well… Everything?

I agreed to this. Well, maybe not the dirty laundered or the damnable spiders, the laundry is just par for the course, and the spiders are the tools of the devil… But the rest, I agreed to. I stood with the he host of heaven and trusted my Father when He told me about His plan: I cheered when he told me that I could come to earth, obtain a body, learn, live, marry, and have children. I cherished the opportunity to be like Him. And whether you believe it or not, whether you know it or not, heck, whether you know me or not; so did you.

We knew what challenges would face us, maybe not in detail, but how do you really understand something without experiencing it? I might have had a different opinion had they told me about the spiders (“I’ll just stay here, okay?”), and had I known about the laundry, my cheers might have been a bit less exuberant… 

But we also knew we would sin. We knew that we would fall short of the perfection needed to live with God in His Glory. We knew we would damn ourselves (auto correct just put that to ‘dang ourselves,’ you think it knows I’m a Mormon?) and most importantly, we accepted all of that risk and pain because we trusted the Father’s plan: we trusted His Son and the promised atonement which would cleanse us of our sins.

So how do I keep on? I simply do it because I always have. I started out a long time ago trusting God. I started out a long time ago with the end goal in mind: Salvation and Eternal Progression with my loving Father in Heaven. I began this journey a long time ago, and while I hadn’t yet experienced the misery of dirty underwear, I knew that all the laundry in the world was worth the prize.

And do you know what? So did you.

So despite my aching legs and churning stomach tonight, I want to share with you my joy. Life isn’t always great, but it is always worth it. If you ever doubt that, please reach out to someone for help. Be chase while we knew that we’d have a lot of muck to slog through, we never have to slog alone. Your family loves you. Your friends love you. I love you, even if we’ve never met. And with the greatest love of all, our Savior and our Father love you.

Life is always hard, but it is always worth it.

The Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Condemning the Innocent One

On Thursday of the Holy Week, in preparation for the Passover feast, Emmanuel sent his apostles to obtain a room wherin they would eat the Paschal meal: they would eat a sacrificial lamb, as well as unleavened bread, and the following 8 days would be spent without leaven in their diet.

Though the beginning of the Jewish Friday, for our reckoning, it would have been Thursday night that He gathered His chosen 12 into the upper room of a prepared house to break bread with them. Here, the Apostles prepared for an annual feast, but the Lord prepared for His last mortal meal. I imigine some solemnity appropriate to the celebration, but the most astute of the 12 might have noticed an additional sorrow permeate the room.

Here they ate together, and in His true prescience, Jesus declared that he knew that one of his chosen would betray him. In an audacious attempt to further cover his evil design, Judas asked “is it I?” Christ’s reply, “thou hast said”, would undoubtedly have been as cutting to Himself as it was to the traitor. 

Here it was that He introduced the sacrament of the last supper, and the ordinance of washing of feet. Here he taught that the greatest must become the servant of all. Here Peter, misunderstanding the ordinance, and zealous as ever, argued that he would never allow his Master to debase himself by washing Peter’s feet. Christ warned him, “if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me,” Peter cried “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” The Lord’s gentle rebuke showed the nature of the ordinance “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.” The Master continued “and ye are clean, but not all,” showing again that, while his chosen 12 allowed him to cleanse them and make them pre, 1 remained stained in his heart, preparing even now to complete the sale of his soul and commit the final act of treacherous murder and betrayal that he kept hidden in his heart… And Jesus knew it.

Soon after, they men sat again to eat, ““I speak not of you all,” Jesus said, “I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” Understanding his meaning, Peter motioned John, who sat with Jesus, to ask who it was that was the traitor: Jesus told John, “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.”

In the Jewish tradition, it wasn’t uncommon for the head of the table to offer a dipped piece of bread to a guest at the table, so when the Head offered the Sop to the traitor Iscariot, Judas took it. To him, Christ said “That thou doest, do quickly.” Surely, the bulk of the followers understood Christ as sending Judas on some pre-arranged task, or they would have tried to stop him. But imagine the dismay of the zealous Peter and the beloved John who watched as the betrayer, having been identified as such by the master, skulked into the night to fulfil his malevolent plans. John comments darkly “and it was night.”

Following the exit of the evil one, the Teacher shared his last sermon to his brothers. He prayed with them, and for them, that “they may be one,” pleading unity among the leaders that he had ordained. Then they departed, as planned, to a garden, for Jesus to pray.

In Gethsemane, Jesus set his remaining 11 to guard and watch over him as he wrestled in the Spirit. We cannot know, we cannot fathom the burden that the Lord carried. For centuries the Jews had symbolically banished a goat into the wilderness carrying the sins of the Children of Israel. Since the beginning of man, they had sacraficed pure and perfect lambs to redeem them and atone them with the Farher. Here, in the garden, the Lamb of God prepared himself to take take all of those roles upon himself, to fill the Plan of the Father, and to end the symbolic sacrifices forever.

It was here that He bore the sins, the sorrows, the pains of all mankind from the beginning to the end, on his own shoulders. Here, he who was with the Father in the beginning, struggled with the load he had been given. Here he plead with his Father: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” 

Having never sinned, the law of death did not bind him, he could have chosen to walk away, saving himself and damning us forever, but instead surrounded by trees and oil presses, he bore the weight of the infinite atonement, and as the olives are pressed for their precious oil, he was pressed until he bleed from every pore.

Again he pled “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.”

We often remember the cross as the place of atonement, but it was here in the garden that the Master of Creation, the King of Kings, took upon himself the consequence of sin, and began the redeeming atonement that saved all mankind from death, and all who would follow him from damnation.

Still later, the traitor returned with the Jewish guard, and, having shown them the sign by which they would recognize the Master in the dark, condemned his Lord with a kiss. Ever zealous, Peter prepared himself to give his own life in defense of the Savior, but was stopped, and Jesus mended the soldier’s wounded ear. Did the healed guard turn away in shame? Or had his hate already filled his heart?

Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin, where he was condemned for daring to speak the truth: that he was, and is, the Son of the Father. Enraged, they sought his life, but fearing the Romans, sent Him to Pilate for his sentencing, for while blasphemy was punishable by death (though he had not blasphemed, they convicted him of that crime, and in so doing, committed the very act of which they accused him), capital punishment needed to be pronounced by the Romans for violating Roman law. So they sent him to the Romans and accused him of treason, stating that the King of Peace was trying to insite rebellion against the Empire.
Through the night he was passed from one coward to another, and the Lord of All was humiliated and beaten, scorned and shamed. Having prophetically seen the atrocity, Isaiah wrote about the horrors of this Thursday night:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

As we remember the Great Reedeemer, and walk with Him on his road to the cross, let us remember that He bore our sins. It was because of His love for us, His obedience to the Father’s Plan, and His infinite mercy that he suffered the presses of Gethsemene, that He submitted to the traitor’s kiss, that He allowed the abuse of those charged with watching over Isreal and the looking for His coming. 

Let us allow Him to carry our burdens, lest we scorn His sacrafice. If you have once believed, but are lost: come home! His arms are outstretched still! If you have yet to feel his endless love, accept it! For it there for you, no matter your sins or sorrows. If you have already accepted Him, then use today as a chance of reflection and repentance. 

Jesus Christ is the Promised Messiah, the Lamb of God!