I have always been tempted to amend Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote – “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation . . .” I always want to add . . . and the rest are so conspicuously desperate, that they make us all feel uncomfortable. Outward displays of desperation are more often than not, met as social pariah – such weakness and humiliation sets all social convention on edge. We all become anxious in the presences of someone who is obviously desperate, as if pulled into the gravity of their plight. I am suspicious that it is more than a sympathetic vibration — that there’s an embedded element of our anxiety that makes us feel exposed . . . as if our own quiet desperation just escaped from the locked closet, where it is kept out of sight.
It doesn’t require a counseling degree to recognize the emotional compression with which most people live. All of those protective layers keeping us safe – our expectations held in check, convinced that the prudent thing is to sit steady in the boat, not making waves . . . such is the wisdom of our whispering fears – how can we resist? So our simmering desperation for a life that is more than just safe, remains kept under lock and key. So yes, when we see someone conspicuously desperate we know exactly what they feel – and on some level we’re interested to see how it plays out . . . will it be the cautionary tale we suspect . . . or is there really a chance for a more hopeful outcome?
I can’t help but notice when reading the Gospels how many of those who engage Jesus were willing to demonstrate shameless desperation – just a few examples:
The Friends of the Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12) – Undaunted by the crowd, cut a hole in the roof in order to lower their needy friend into Christ’s presence.
The Gentile Woman (Mark 7:24-30) – Initially put off by Jesus, she is willing to take the crumbs of his attention.
The Leper (Luke 5:12-16) Breaking all cultural and social protocols, this unclean man approaches Jesus and his disciples.
The Centurion (Luke 7:1-10) A Roman guard humbling himself before a Jewish peasant.
Mary Magdalene (Luke 7:36-50) A prostitute enters the home of a prestigious Pharisee in order to fall at the feet of Jesus.
Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) A man of wealth and means degrades himself by climbing a tree for a better look at Jesus.
It’s plain to see this pattern in the Gospels – the singular focus of need pursues the only source of hope, but not with the measured distance of self-sufficiency, rather with the unbridled expression of desperation. And in each case, their desperate acts of faith are rewarded. In this way desperation fine tunes our faith, focusing our hearts and minds on the clarity of our great need for God’s sufficiency. But it really is no surprise that God would want us honest and vulnerable as we come to him. So as antithetical as it may seem, against every impulse, we must come to God desperate for his loving touch.
The rest of that Henry David Thoreau quote reads “. . . and go to the grave with the song still in them.” So what is the song of your heart? Will it remain unsung, or will you dare sing it with wild abandon? In God’s reconciliation our entire story is being re-envisioned, where every broken place is given a new beauty, and all of our fears are chased back into the shadows. So without hesitation let your pride fall away and shamelessly run into the arms of God’s immeasurable love.
This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection
The Illusion of Water
Surprised to find that it’s you pulling me under
Thrashing frantically to hold on
To what cannot be held
Filling my lungs for the last time
Before I disappear beneath the deep
In my terrified panic
I consume any chance of return
As the mirage of surface fades from reach
In my long numbing silence
Every thought floats free of me
Almost without motion
Content to be small in this place
Held without effort
Surprised that I’m still here
In a circling splinter of light
Cheshire grin like
The substance of all things
Each syllable formed on your lips
Conforms to your will
Serves at your pleasure
It is the nature of hope
To face what is impossible
Then to pull up short of despair
Choosing the path of another possible
Where all things are possible
Surprised that I had forgotten
The way love overcomes fear