The Power of Hope

Written October 5th, 2017 for Joy of It.

Hope and I have a complicated relationship.  

Hope, as an idea, has always sounded like a wonderful thing, a cure for the bleakest of circumstances. Hope, in practice, has more often than not let me down.  My life has been an ongoing exercise in the development of  “hope management strategies.”  

These hope management strategies needed to be developed early on as a child with an overactive imagination. I would read stories of adventures and excitement, only to come back to a world that was bound to disappoint, with no mystery to solve, nowhere to go but my room, and, most assuredly, no birthday ever that could live up to what I dreamed it to be.

Trial, error, and observation led me to eventually conclude: “too much hope is bad, but I shouldn’t be hopeless, because you never know, God might do something…”

Hope, understood in this way, is powerless. It is wishful thinking, which never in fact instills hope.  

Managing hope as it pertains to having high expectations is one thing, but it has been a far more difficult exercise managing the desires of my heart.  I am forever wondering, “when exactly are we supposed to get our hopes up?

I remember wrestling with this question as a young adult when I first read the verse in the book of Proverbs that says,

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  

I thought (with all the angst worthy of this precious time of life), “yes, this verse in the bible has spoken to my soul! I am heartsick over not being in love.”  I am probably the first teenager to have thought this.

But what do you do with heartsickness and deferred hope?  

The succinct answer of: “Just hope in God and all your desires will be met” will not suffice.  Loving God doesn’t make all our hopes go away. But it can put them in perspective.

When my dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, my deepest desire was that he would be healed. But with bone aching sadness, I realized that my hope could not only be for him to be healed, because what if he wasn’t? Hope had to be more, dare I say, sure, even than me getting what I wanted.   I did not get what I wanted, but I was not without hope.

Getting what we want cannot be our greatest hope.  

But that is so easy to forget. Not too long ago I had the desire for my family to move, and in the most unexpected of ways, God graciously granted this desire.  God was praised and I rejoiced.  Then, almost as unexpectedly, our situation reversed, and it was over.  Where once doors were opened, instead they now began to close. The place we had moved from is exactly where we would have to move back. Even as the doors started to close, I believed that they wouldn’t close with finality.  Most people around me believed the same.  All my hope was placed in the doors not closing.

I clung to this hope with ferocity.  In fact, the more I clung to it, the more I needed it to come true.  Everything that seemed to threaten this hope was hated.  If this one hope were fulfilled, I felt like I could face every other disappointment or difficult situation that life threw my way.  House offers went on the table and off, with nothing to show for it.  One day I wrote in my journal, “hope has become a fickle companion, sneaking out of the shadows just in time to break my heart again.”  The doors all closed.  We moved back to the place we had come from. Disappointment turned into despair.

And then I saw it, what I had done.

I had allowed the fulfillment of my desire to be an ultimate hope. A savior of sorts.  How easy it is to be swept away in our desire; how devastating the blow of being taken captive by it. The realization of this, led to a quieted soul, and a freer one.

There was a prophet in the bible whose perspective on hope I have come to cling to.  It was not an easy road for Jeremiah, nor was he immune to despair. His heart weeped for a great many things.  But he knew true hope.   

He says,

“I have forgotten what happiness is, so I say, ‘My endurance has perished, so has my hope from the LORD.’ Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”

It’s this kind of hope, as a reality, that really is a wonderful thing, a cure for all of life’s circumstances, and a hope that is sure.