Finding Hope… When It Seems Hopeless
“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
I remember a particular father who brought his daughter into the residential program here at Heartlight. His eyes filled with tears as he spoke to me about the struggles and the problems that his daughter was experiencing. Frankly, it was one of the worst stories of a troubled teenager that I had heard in quite awhile. My heart ached for this hurting father as he looked for a bit of encouragement.
“Just tell me that there is hope in this,” he told me.
I remember distinctly looking him in the eye and saying with complete confidence, “There’s always hope.” That didn’t come from some Pollyanna optimism I had for the future. The certainty of hope that every parent can have is based on the character of our Heavenly Father who promises to finish what He starts.
They’re a lot older now, but I can remember the first kids I counseled when I started this ministry. There were times when I thought, These kids are hopeless! There’s absolutely no way they can turn it around! But these same kids are now healthy, happy adults with strong marriages and good families. The time that their parents, the Heartlight team, and most importantly, God, invested into their lives brought about a wealth of blessings for their future. Through example after example, I’ve learned that though the outlook might look bleak and hopeless, God always brings hope.
Embrace the Pain
Parenting is not pain-free. There are many joys of raising children, but there are also a lot of heartaches. When a teenager is spiraling out-of-control, it can wreak havoc and sorrow on marriage and family relationships. In the midst of pain like that, all we want to do is get out from under that strain as soon as possible and find release.
But I’ve discovered that pain is a good reminder of God’s presence in our lives. When the puzzle pieces of life are falling into place, we often forget to recognize the Lord’s hand of blessing behind it all. But when things are falling apart, it’s easier to see God holding the broken elements of our life together. Times of testing are opportunities to see how God can take any situation, work through it, and bring about restoration. Usually, we have to come to the end of ourselves and our resources before we can notice and appreciate God’s intervention.
The story of God’s people illustrates this principle. Freed from the slavery of Egypt, the Israelites went singing and dancing into the desert. It wasn’t till they hit the barrier of the Red Sea and heard the murderous sounds of chariots behind them that they started to panic. Hemmed in by all sides, and seeing no way out, the people of God cried out, “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:12). They despaired and saw no hope in present circumstances. God brought them to a place where their only option was to turn to Him and look towards the future. It’s when circumstances looked the bleakest that God showed up and provided a way through the Red Sea.
God doesn’t make mistakes. The child in your life was put there specifically by the Lord, not only for his or her benefit and growth, but for yours as well. Those painful struggles we face with our kids can change us, refine us, and strengthen our faith. So we should embrace the pain, knowing that God is going to use it for the future.
Embrace the Bigger Picture
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hopelessness comes when we look at things we can see: our son’s addiction to alcohol or drugs, or a teen daughter’s pregnancy. But faith is focusing on what we can’t see; the good and perfect plans God has for our children. It’s looking with spiritual eyes at the big picture. In the moment, these trials seem monumental and overwhelming. Yet, with faith, we can see how God can use even the low points of child’s life for their good.
I had one student who, as a result of a party lifestyle and rebellion, got pregnant when she was sixteen. Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents, and reevaluate her decisions. With the support of her family, the young lady did the right thing, gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a growing and mature adult. I asked her some years later her thoughts on that tough time in her life, and she said, “Mark, getting pregnant was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility. And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.”
I could tell even more stories about former students who have written me letters and e-mails to say that their DUI was the best thing that happened to them, or that running away from home changed their lives. It wasn’t because these were good things at the time, but looking back, they gained a new perspective about the struggles they faced, and how it shaped their futures. Those trials and troubles gave them a reason to find help, and served as a reminder of the consequences of their actions. What seemed hopeless at the time, actually gave teens hope for the future.
We gain a sense of hope when we see the past, the present, and the future as whole. We can see God’s mercy and blessings in the past experiences. We can lean on God’s goodness in the present. And we can rely on the good plans God has for us, and our children, for tomorrow. Mom and Dad, if you are in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation with your teen, remember that the story is not over. There is always hope.