I had a conversation with someone this morning who, having ingested his regular morning diet of alarming international news, announced, “I have decided what I am going to give up for Lent.”

You might assume the next part of this announcement would be, “I have decided to give up reading the news.” But that is not what he said. Instead he told me, “I have decided to give up hope for Lent.”

I know it was mostly said in jest. But, looking at the state of the world, it is tempting to feel like the only logical response is to abandon all hope in this experiment of being human. Certainly, if hope depends upon life always unfolding in comforting soothing ways, there is a great deal about which it is only realistic to feel utterly hopeless.

Circumstantial hope is no hope at all. As long as we travel in this material time-bound physical realm, circumstances will always arise that defy our expectations and dash our hopes. Life can be unreservedly brutal. Even in the extraordinarily privileged circumstances in which I live, I have encountered enough jagged edges to know that any hope that life will always be pleasant is a foolish illusion.

So is the only honest response to join my friend and simply give up hope for Lent?

Could there be a different way to understand hope that might be meaningful even within the midst of the challenge and suffering that are an inevitable part of the human condition?

Is there a hope that can stand even in the face of pain?

I sense the urgency of these questions. I want to rush to comforting answers. A hopeless life seems an unbearable burden. I want to resolve the tensions, to circumvent the pain, to avoid having to face my own vulnerability.

But, what if hope is in fact the willingness to stay right here, to hold my ground in this awkward, uncomfortable, painful reality that is life? There are so many things that feel terribly broken, so much that it is impossible for anyone to fix.

Perhaps all these broken bits have a role to play in my life. Perhaps the real hope is that, if I am willing to see honestly the painful realities of life, I will sense a hint of something within myself that is stronger and deeper than all the horror I see. And, perhaps, if I allow the pain to break me open to that deeper place, I may gradually become an instrument for some healing in the midst of all that is so unwell.

When Job’s friends heard of the terrible suffering of their friend, they visited him and

raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven bights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw this his suffering was very great.

(Job 2:12b, 13)

This may not seem a hopeful response. But, it is the right response. It is only later when Job’s friends tried to provide answers to the dilemma of his life that they went terribly astray. They were in the right place when they just sat with Job, bringing their own sorrow, their own awareness of the harshness of life and joining Job in his pain. This is true hope.

We can be pain-bearers together. We can allow the often horrifying realities of life to break us open to that place within ourselves where we see that we are one with one another and with all the suffering of the world. This is the only honest place I can live. It is here that some glimmer of light may begin to shine in the dark.