On first glance you might not think these books have much in common. I didn’t plan on reading them at the same time and while I was reading them the connection between the two didn’t really occur to me either. But as I was laying down last night for bed (because don’t all great thoughts hit you right when you are about to go to sleep?) I realized how much they did have in common.
Shiloh is a fictional story written by Helena Sorensen. It is part of a trilogy and without spoiling too much, it is in many ways a creation story. As in the true Creation story, evil enters in and in the land of Shiloh that evil takes the form of the Shadow. The land is cast in darkness and it is the hope of the people that shines out into the darkness. As their hope fades or grows, the light that shines out from them fades and grows. A cast of characters rises up against (and falls into) the Shadow and this is their story.
Still Waiting is true story, I’d almost call it a memoir in many ways, about one woman’s struggle to maintain hope in the midst of a continually difficult condition. Ann Swindell correlates her story with the story of the bleeding woman from the Gospels. It is a book that describes waiting and is filled with reminders of where our hope should lie.
Throughout the story of Shiloh, the characters wake up daily in a world shrouded with darkness. This darkness is all they have ever known and they have the choice to believe and continue to hope in the stories that they’ve been told through generations or give into the darkness and live with it until their time is done. I love that it’s not an easy story. We don’t live in an easy world and this parallel world is no different. We give into the darkness and we let our light of hope dim and even at times we let that light be completely smothered. This story of the land of Shiloh was tender because of the darkness that I found myself in a few seasons ago. Like Amos in the story, it was easier to give into the Shadow and ignore all the pain. But in the end, I knew I couldn’t keep drinking the water of darkness, but I had to find my way out into the light. I’ve rarely read a story where the ending sticks so clearly in my mind. The quartet of characters has a choice, to give into the fear literally racing at them or face the absolute unknown. Both options were incredibly frightening – yet one led to life and one led to death. The longer you live in a place of shadow the more we are faced with this same option. To remain in darkness is scary and crushing. But to step out away from the darkness is full of fear also. Ultimately, restoration only comes when we move out of the darkness.
This is where hope and waiting come in. In Still Waiting, Ann relates her struggle with a psychological condition that is enhanced by anxiety and fear. She can’t control it, yet she can control her hope in restoration. Each chapter is focused on an aspect of waiting – how waiting breaks us, weakens us, claims our identity, makes us angry, brings us shame, feels like suffering and is risky, yet in the end waiting is filled with grace. Waiting teaches us hope. In our weakness, in our darkest moments in the shadows, we can learn that our “weakness is a bridge to Jesus.”
One of the overarching themes in Shiloh was the idea of Identity. It is only in remembering who they are, who they belong to and who created them that they are able to reignite the light within them and free themselves and others from the darkness. Amos cries out to his sister that she has to remember and yet he struggles to identify what she should remember. Their lives had been fraught with so many memories that were so crushing; yet even in sorrow there is hope living there. He reminds her of her gifts and he reaches out to her. It’s only in the remembering and the reaching out that the light begins to break through. The same goes for us as we struggle with hope and waiting. Ann reminds us that God has claimed us, he has renamed us and he is in the process of restoring us. It may not be a restoration that we want or in the time that we want, but it is still a promise that He keeps. We might eve be freed from one shadow only to be eclipsed by an even stronger one. That is where we have to decide whether we will give into the anger that will surely rise up or give into obedience and believe the promises.
Simoen and Amos are truly dark and light in the story of Shiloh. One gives into anger and the other obedience. Both of them have to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and both of them are needy. It is out of our need that Jesus comes for us and that the Light reaches them. But on the opposite side, it is out of that need that the darkness comes too. We cannot respond in obedience without knowing who we are and believing in the hope. And oh the risk. Ann reminds us through her story of that risk.
“Our desires and our dreams so often dissolve before us. Life is hard. Our hearts grow weary. Hoping feels too tender, too raw. Waiting for the fullness of our promised restoration threatens to usurp our hope.”
So it’s a question of where our hope lies. If it’s in us and our ability to push through or just ignore the darkness, we will fail. But be warned, we will fail when our hope is centered in Christ too. The difference is where we fall. When I am grounded in the promises of the light; I will be injured, sorrow will come and I may continue to sit in this place of waiting for restoration. The difference is I am sitting in the light.