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3 Routes to Delight for the Despairing Pastor

It’s before seven o’clock on the morning and I am reading a detailed document on violence against the poor within the developing world. Property grabbing. Sex trafficking. Bonded labor. Police brutality. Torture. All there in writing, as I bounce along on the train through a picturesque state park. I can look out and see forests full of hiking trails, fishing holes, horse farms scattered about, all while riding comfortably and securely to work. Meanwhile, my head is filled with the ever present reality that in other places, as people get up and start their day, they are enveloped by overwhelming violence that I have the luxury of just reading about. And, I hear more and more about this every single day. So, I asked myself, how is it that I delight in my work instead of plunging into despair?

It happens three ways:

  1. Community
  2. Story
  3. Prayerful hope

My delight in the midst of so much despair is because I am constantly surrounded by a community of believers who are going through the very same thing I am. They know what the world is really like out there, past the fancy commuter trains and Starbucks, and across oceans and borders. They know the oppressive nature of violence and crime that plagues the poor. I know. They know. We know. We are all in this together.

But community does not readily bring delight. Community is also a place of great despair. Yet, if your community is going to be a place that transforms despair into delight you must be a community that tells stories. Story is what reminds us of how people and circumstances of the past were transformed from despair into delight. It is in these stories that we find how to orient our moments of despair into a delight in the goodness that has come in the past and is currently happening in the present. To come full circle like this, from despair to delight, follows the trajectory of human story: We were made to live within these redemptive narratives, and they are our currency of delight.

If we keep telling stories as a community, we will be given a prayerful hope which culminates in delight. If we live within the stories of our communities, then we will have a foundation on which to stand and prayerfully hope for the future. I say prayerfully because this is not a given; delight and redemption don’t just happen. But we can pray that they do, and live and move and have our being in that prayerful hope.

J.R.R. Tolkien, in discussing his own work, and narrative in general, described the move from despair to delight as eucatastrophe (literally: the good catastrophe). When we despair and think all hope is lost, we must rely on our community, our stories and our prayerful hope to bring about the abundant change we need in our lives, our families and our world. And when the turn finally comes, and justice wins once again, we can bask in delight.