Have you ever felt hopeless? Can you remember a time in which you could see no good in a situation – or even in life as a whole for that matter? As Mike Wilkerson shares, “It’s not our raw experiences that determine our lives but the meaning we make of them – the stories we tell and the stories we believe. Out of those stories, we live our lives.” After years of counseling hurting people, I am convinced of this: If our story feels hopeless, then Jesus is not in it – and the story is a lie. For when Jesus is the main character, we are thunderstruck with His-Story and utterly filled with hope.

So what makes the difference? How do we understand His story – one that is brimming with hope? Before we answer this important question, we must remember that true hope can only be defined by the One who created hope in the first place. How are we, as creatures, supposed to make sense out of anything if it is not defined by our Creator? In other words, we must consider the spiritual implications of our stories if we are to wisely interpret physical life in God’s world. We must think vertically if we are to make sense of anything horizontally.

For example, we are all desperately searching for identity. We often look horizontally to a relationship, the approval of others, or material possessions to write the story of who we think we are. Or sometimes we find our identity in seemingly more destructive things like drugs, alcohol, pornography, or immoral relationships. However, when you look horizontally to the physical realm to provide hope, you will be disappointed and left feeling hopeless. Maybe not at first, but no created person or thing can ever take the place of our Creator God. So what happens when the lies you have believed come crashing down around you?

One truth is evident: The stories of our lives are marked with suffering. You may wonder why God would write His story this way. I often do. But consider this: Have you learned more about our Holy God in times of abundance – or in times of sheer desperation? There is no question that God has used suffering to change me, humble me, and stop me. While I am blessed by God’s severe mercy in my life, I still do not like pain. In fact, I am very adverse to pain. Just ask my wife. However, sometimes things have to get dark before the Light of Jesus is visible. We all have many war stories: interject yours here. Many of us can locate somewhere we hurt badly right now. Perhaps your marriage is falling apart, you are enslaved to an addiction, or maybe you have received a terminal diagnosis. Whatever you are facing, regardless of how dark it is, are you facing it both vertically and horizontally?

Consider our Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Anxious thoughts about the impending physical and spiritual torment of the cross caused Him to sweat blood. Notice what Jesus does – and does not – do. In the midst of extreme suffering, He does face fear and cry out vertically in great distress to the Father. Jesus moves right towards the eye of the storm, and He asks his friends to pray with and help Him. He does notnumb His pain or deny that suffering on this earth is excruciating. Neither does He hide behind some platitude like “try harder” or “have more faith.” No, Jesus hated suffering, too. He hated it so much that He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup [of suffering and wrath] from me.” But remember how Jesus finished his prayer, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:42) He embraced His suffering vertically so He could endure it horizontally – because He knew the truth of God’s redemptive story. Jesus chose to travel this road of suffering on behalf of God’s most treasured possessions – you and me! He faced this brutality for us and in place of us. When you suffer, are you taking your battles to the One who endured the ultimate suffering?

Feast on these words in Luke 24:26: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into glory?” Since we are His, we will share in His sufferings so that we can think redemptively about ours. But praise God we will also suffer and enter into glory through His resurrection. Therefore, by God’s grace, we are invited to see the most painful experiences, to view the darkest seasons, and to read the most tragic chapters of our lives as redemptive opportunities to know Him more accurately and intimately. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) After all, it is His story that ultimately brings hope.