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I’m so glad my parents chose to name me with love and hope. Darlene is related to its homonym, “Darling,” meaning beloved. To beloved they added Hope from the trinity of faith, hope, and love found in 1 Corinthians 13:13. I’ve needed them all to get through a life that’s rarely gone smoothly.
My late teens culminated a difficult childhood with a traumatic introduction to adulthood. I was abused by four different men, all family members. The last one stripped away my last support, my mother. After she married an alcoholic who made advances towards me, I never truly went home again.
Against that background, God dropped the beautiful bombshell of the eighth chapter of Romans into my heart. This chapter begins with, “There is therefore now no condemnation …” and ends with “nothing will separate us from the love of God.”
My past had given me every reason to condemn myself and to consider every trial as evidence that God didn’t really love me. But Romans 8 made it clear no exclusions apply. His first list mentioned a sweeping statement of suffering: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword. If that wasn’t enough, he followed up with a series of magnificent all-or-nothing statements. Whether alive or dead, in the present or in the future, whether it be good or evil, wherever I am, I would never find myself in a predicament where God stopped loving me.
I won’t say the perfectionism I strove for to please God went away. Far from it. I have a competitive drive, and I long to be first. But I began to believe His words in this chapter were true, and that they applied to me. That gave me the confidence to keep striving.
Something else happened as well. I call it the “hope formula,” and it’s based on Romans 5. There is a direct link between suffering and hope. That doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, does it? But it certainly proved true in my life. Here’s how:
I learned to pick myself up and keep going as I failed at things that mattered deeply to me. My failures felt like suffering, especially when my expected and desired careers in music and church ministry fell apart. Yet that’s when I discovered I had a strong will, given by God, to persevere. Since I couldn’t get out of the situation, I had to find a way through it.
About that time, I received an award for perseverance from a local writer’s club. My character began to change. Instead of saying, “God is good” only when I had a stress-free day, I learned to say, “God is good all the time, even when it doesn’t feel like it.”
My fledgling hope was tested most severely when my daughter committed suicide. However, as the waves of grief swept over me, I discovered that was when God’s hope shone the most brightly. In fact, I came to a startling conclusion. God had always known when my daughter would die. Everything I endured prior to that sad day had, in fact, given me the faith, strength, and hope I clung to after her death in order to survive.
The same hope sustains me now as I experience the indignities of old age. I’ve discovered another side benefit. Out of my suffering and the hope I have through it, I can comfort others. This realization shook me out of my comfortable Christian cage and gave me a heart to understand and respond to suffering in others. Paul speaks to this phenomenon in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
When bad times come, I no longer worry that I’ve done something wrong but instead seek God. I can even accept it with gratitude. In fact, I’m thankful for the strength and character suffering has formed in me. God never stops working to bring about his best for me.
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