Learning to Hope

I am cautious with my heart, not by nature but through experience. Yet Trust has been a recurring call in my journey with Christ – trust, and pain, and hope.

The first call I heard from the Lord was: Trust Me to make you whole. I had accepted Christ as my Savior, but I was anything but whole. I didn’t know how healing could happen; I could not imagine any world in which I did not carry this pain with me. Persistently and gently, though, the Lord called to me: Trust Me to heal you. Like the woman who reached out to touch merely the hem of Jesus’ robe, I hardly dared ask for His attention – and He turned and gave me the fullness of His healing grace. Even now, I am staggered by the power and grace with which Christ worked in the dark places of my heart.

The second time I heard that call was in the context of writing my book and – even more so – doing publicity interviews this past summer.

I Can Be a Failure: Thoughts on Christian Identity

I struggle with what I call the shadow: my name for that sudden darkening of my inner vision, the acedia or spiritual apathy, the gray and muffling pall of depression. Sometimes it is mercifully absent from my inner horizon for days or weeks; other times it is hovers, vaguely threatening, in my peripheral vision.

I’ve tried fighting back: asserting, in the face of crippling self-doubt, that I have so much evidence of my own accomplishments that the shadow is absurd. Unfortunately, the positive-thinking route does not work. It has been more effective to accept the reality of the feeling while intellectually recognizing that it is based on a lie, a distortion of reality. Better yet has been to also offer up my sadness to the Lord in prayer, and turn my thoughts deliberately toward gratitude for all the good things in my life, which are many – to be grateful, even if I don’t feel happy.

Are You Peter or Paul?

Saints Peter and Paul – the steady fisherman and the fiery Pharisee, the devoted disciple and the persecutor-turned-apostle. Every congregation is filled with Peters and Pauls – which one are you?

In Peter we see the Christian who has been raised in the church. Peter has no dramatic conversion experience, no abrupt shift from darkness to light; rather, he has spent a long time in the company of those who follow the Lord, and he has come to know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Peter’s faith is not dramatic, but it is solid – so much so that our Lord declares that the faith he shows, the acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ, will be the rock upon which he will build the Church.

Not that the path has always been straight – definitely not! For only moments after he declares his faith, he tries to dissuade Jesus from the way of the Cross, only to be sternly rebuked.

What Epiphany Shows Us About Evangelism

The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Our Lord to all people. He came that we might know him – that all might know him, everywhere. Epiphany calls us to a renewed understanding that mission and evangelism are not incidental add-ons to the Gospel, but rather the unfolding of Jesus’ work from the very beginning.

Epiphany reminds us that we do not “own” Jesus. He is not church property, to protect from contact with a messy world.

But even more than that, Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is not just an idea to tell people about, but a Person to encounter.

We can’t make people know Christ by dumping information on them, or by rhetorically maneuvering them into a corner, or by “winning” an argument about who Christ is, or by promising lots of fun and self-help and personal fulfillment.

The Problem of Christmas

Christmas often reveals our emptiness. In a season dedicated to giving, we discover our own neediness; in a season dedicated to family and friends, our loneliness comes into sharp focus.

Two voices offering solutions to the problem of Christmas can be heard above the background voice of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Winter Wonderland.” The first is the voice of consumerism. Buy stuff! Find the perfect gift for others, get the perfect stuff for yourself, decorate your house perfectly, and you will happy and joyful. The second voice counters by reminding us that people are more important than things, that we should focus on the really important part of Christmas: love, joy, peace.

It’s easy to critique consumerism, because it’s so evidently shallow. But the problem is that both voices are partly true and partly false.

Spiritual Dryness: Reflecting on Not Wanting to Read the Bible

I don’t love reading the Bible. There: I said it. In fact, I’ll go further: I struggle to make myself read Holy Scripture, and when I do read it, it usually leaves me cold. Far from being a sweet experience of encountering God, reading the Word often makes me a bit depressed, because I think “Is this it? I’m not feeling profoundly impacted by the Word... I guess I must be defective.”

Let me be clear about doctrine. I believe that the Bible is the written Word of God, inerrant, inspired by the Holy Spirit. I know how important it is for Christian formation. I know that in these pages, it’s possible to have a life-changing encounter with God through the Holy Spirit.

I just have a really hard time reading it.

Part of the problem may be the weight of impossible expectations.

Naming the Shadow of Joylessness: Acedia

As I write this, it’s October, the Southern California summer finally shading into fall. A year ago I was feeling very low, physically and mentally exhausted and ill. What was worse than feeling tired and sick was what I came to think of as “the shadow.” When the shadow fell on me, it was as if all the color washed out of the world. My accomplishments – meaningless. The work that I was trying to do – a waste of time. My need for friendship – pathetic and sad. Why bother? It became difficult to do anything under the shadow. I had trouble getting myself even to eat at times; it seemed hardly worth the effort.  

And all of this, it is important to note, at a time when my ministry work, teaching, and writing were by all accounts successful. I knew that my lecturing at church was well received, because people would come up and tell me how much they appreciated it.

Reality and Language Games

Pilate asks, famously: “What is truth?” He isn’t asking a real question, but rather a rhetorical one. The modern-day equivalent would be for Pilate to say “Who am I to judge what truth is?” “What works for you may not work for me.” By asking the question, he is trying to force the stubborn reality of the situation (is this man the Son of God? should he release him, or have him crucified?) into an easier, more manageable mold. If truth can’t be determined, Pilate is not responsible for betraying it (or, in this case, Him.)


He is playing a language game.

And in our postmodern world, we play that game all the time, trying to make reality conform to our use of language.

To a certain degree, it is true that our language shapes how we react to reality, though that is not the same thing as saying it shapes reality itself.

Avoiding the Doubt Dodge

The most important questions in life are the big ones. Is there a God? What does it mean to be human? How should we live? What is justice? Big questions tend to have equally big answers – that is, answers that, once understood and accepted, change our lives.

Big questions are not always easy to answer. Why should they be? Just because something is true doesn’t mean it has to be easy to find out or understand – just ask a mathematician or scientist who has sweated blood over figuring out the answer to a tough research problem. Sometimes truth is simple, and sometimes it is complex; like reality itself, at times it is simple on the surface but reveals increasing complexity when examined closely.

So, at times it is a hard slog to find the answers to these big questions – and sometimes the big questions have answers we don’t like, or that we fear we won’t like.

On the Importance of Church Family

My church has a custom, on the second Sunday of every month, of calling everyone who has a birthday or anniversary during that month to come to the altar rail and receive a blessing. Birthdays go on one side of the altar, anniversaries on the other. Since my birthday falls in August, this past Sunday I went up and knelt with the other August birthday-ers – and, as it happened, on my left was a young girl of sixteen, and on my right, a mature woman in her sixties, both of whom I consider friends.

After we received our blessing, I went back to my pew, and watched as the priest blessed the anniversary couples. As usual, he asked how many years of marriage each couple was celebrating, and repeated the number for the congregation to hear: this month we had celebrations of 20, 55, and 65 years. (We applauded.

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Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of composition and literature. She speaks and writes regularly on literature, especially fantasy literature and poetry, and literary apologetics.