Hope in Real Life
Emily Dickinson called hope “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” which implies something important about hope. It has to land somewhere.
We know what it’s like to hear messages of hope that don’t have a branch to perch upon. From “There, there, it will all turn out okay” to “Trust God to do a miracle, because He promises to [fill in the blank with a bold presumption on the will of God here],” these messages offer hope, but they don’t deliver it. People usually mean well when they say these things to us, but sometimes we wonder if the “hope” they dispense does more damage than good.
If your family is living in the wilderness, wishful thinking won’t do a whole lot for you. It doesn’t take long to learn that this kind of hope just isn’t real.
So where do you find real hope in the wilderness?
Is it in the rush of certainty you feel when your son gets a promising job interview? Is it in five consecutive days of progress you see in your daughter after months of going backwards? Is it in a new regimen of medicine or a new treatment or recovery plan? Is it in a diagnosis—finally—a handy label to affix to the issues in your son or daughter’s life after years of confusion? Or is it even in a specific prayer request, one that asks God to act according to your exact specifications?
We’ve learned that these things are flimsy perches for hope, too. To place hope in them is to grasp at straws. Maybe your son gets the job, only to lose it weeks later. The five days of progress crash and burn into a relapse of epic proportions. Your daughter bails on her recovery plan. A diagnosis does not, it turns out, ensure a cure. And sometimes God answers even the most specific, insistent prayers with a No.
We have discovered that hope is found in God alone. That sounds theologically correct, but what does it really mean?
Real, solid hope lies between the knowledge that God can do anything, that absolutely nothing is impossible for Him, and the knowledge that He loves us even if He doesn’t do the anything we hope He’ll do. Hope lives smack in between these two equal yet different truths.
The words of Jesus give us the parameters of authentic hope:
“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37 and
“My, Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:42
This kind of hope gives us the reference point we desperately need for our emotions. Hoping in God alone does not mean keeping our emotions in neutral (as if that were possible!). It means we can celebrate and be encouraged about the progress or the job interview or even new meds. But it also means we trust God with the fallout that may come later, knowing he will be present then, just as he is now.
We find hope in a love that is bigger than ours. We can trust in the settled fact that God’s love for our children is more constant, more vigilant, more powerful, and more pure than ours could ever be. When our love wanes in those times when things look hopeless, and if we’re honest we have to admit it does, he promises that his love never fades. If we are certain of his love for our kids, we can even trust that the path they are on is necessary for them to get where they need to be.
When we feel helpless about our child’s condition, real hope is the one thing we can do. You cannot control your son. You cannot make good decisions for your daughter. You cannot pick your child up and make him perch on the branch of hope. But you, only you, can do the act of hoping in God alone.
Hope is the way to get to what can only be found in the context of God’s grace: peace and, uncannily, joy. We have both experienced times of steady peace and deep joy when we least expected it, in times when things looked hopeless. We’re learning that real life isn’t what we see; real life is in Christ. When we hoped in lesser things, we missed it. It took utter dependence on Him as our Only Hope to open our eyes.
This is grace in the wilderness, to know that there is a branch for a very real, very substantial hope and that branch is God’s grace. It is sure. All else beneath it may falter, but it will hold. Yes, God may heal our chronically ill child once for all. But if he does not, we know His love for us is like the song of Emily Dickinson’s bird “that sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”
”Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10
Written by Chris and Teri Bledsoe