Monday, September 26, 2011
The God of Hope
It was a warm summer day as I was driving across the Midwest. It was just going to be a short trip for some continuing education at a conference. Instead it had become a painful reminder of what wasn't. I drove past places that all haunted me with what could have been.
And I remembered what I almost had, only to have it gone.
Sometimes it takes seeing what you could have to make you realize what you don't have and just how much you want it. Such had been the case in what I had lost.
As I drove along I-70, self-pity threatened to engulf my little car.
Earlier that week, I had cancelled most of my long-awaited summer plans at the last minute because of a family crisis. Cancelling them wasn't that bad, but it just confirmed to me that hoping and planning for anything I wanted was a bad idea.
Then, there had been something else that I hoped would work out. And clearly, even today, I could see that it wasn't going to. It seemed that I had everything that I really didn't care about and none of the things that I wanted the most. I might as well bury that fading dream, too, and move on with my life... and not be so hopeful. Yes, hope. That was my problem. I hoped too much for things that I wasn't in charge of. I should know better by now - so often life didn't turn out as I would have hoped.
A few tears threatened to spill out and I stared hard into the cornfields. Sometimes it was easier to pretend I didn't care about these disappointments. But I really did care. A whole lot.
Maybe, I reasoned to myself, I should just plan for nothing. I'll be pleasantly surprised if anything happens the way I wish it would.
And then that still, small Voice spoke: "But I'm the God of Hope. Remember?" (Romans 15:13)
"Why do you discount and throw away hope when that is My very essence and character? I AM Hope!"
I gripped the steering wheel, glad I was all alone for hours more so I could have this conversation with God by myself. "B-But, I've tried hope. Hope makes me miserable. I don't want to hope anymore... I want to just live in reality - that life is hard and unfair, that the people and things that I love the most get crushed and torn apart, wrenched from my hands and heart. If I just plan for that, I won't get so disappointed. It's much less painful to live that way."
Case in point - this most recent disappointment. I had hoped that perhaps it was God doing something that I'd been waiting on and praying about for such a very long time. And then this... just nothingness. He wasn't doing something with that after all. Why did I think He was?
My gentle Lord continued probing. "Mary, you choose to believe a lie when you act like I'm not going to be good to you in this. You choose to believe a lie when you act as though you will reap sorrow when you sow good things. Do you not believe me when I say that those who sow to the Spirit, will of the Spirit reap LIFE everlasting? (Galatians 6:8) The Life that I give is an abundant one, not a dreary existence. Was it not obedience to ME that led you to say 'no' to what you wanted most?"
"It's not that I don't believe that You're good, God. You're just not necessarily going to give me all these things that I want so much in life. You are more than good if all you give me is Yourself and heaven. I'm going to lower my expectations and be happy with that."
I knew that Voice ~ God knocking on the door of my weary heart.
"Mary, I'm the God of HOPE! Not the God of frequent disappointment, as you're making Me out to be! To think anything less of Me is wrong. Why are you making a resolution to live as though I will disappoint you?"
I felt so rebuked... slapped almost. Why had I been believing such things about God?
The God of all hope... what does that mean in real naked truth?
First of all, Hope is not synonymous with demanding my own way or thinking that the sea will part before me just because I desperately want it to.
Hope is inconvenient, very much so. It makes the hard things in life that much more painful, because often I had expected different. It can search my heart and motives to the very bottom.
I don't usually ask for hope, and often I don't actually want it.
What I really want is for the desire to go away, or be granted.
As much as we find ourselves praying for what we want, sometimes God doesn't restore broken dreams, regardless of how right they may be. Sometimes He leaves them lying smashed all over the ground.
Sometimes the wayward children never come home and mothers receive phone calls that they died in a fight outside a bar last night. Sometimes lonely ex-spouses pass away having never reconciled with the one who left. And sometimes cancer and disease creep over the body and people grow weaker and weaker til they're gone. Sometimes strong young boys lose their limbs and eyes and sanity in accidents and war and come home as broken men. Sometimes little girls get molested for years behind closed doors and no one ever hears their pleading, silent cries for help. Sometimes babies die, even after years and years of waiting for them. Sometimes the fiance who broke up never changes their mind and "comes around."
Hoping doesn't mean that I believe that God will never take something from me that I love dearly. Or that a God who loves me will never let my heart and my little world be broken. Or that He won't let everything I've spent my life working on swirl down the drain before my eyes.
So, then, in a disappointing and broken world... what is hope?
Hope is a steadfast confidence in the nature of God to do me good -- from creation, to Calvary and all the way into eternity to come. Hope is believing what I cannot see, simply because I know God. Hoping is walking on in the dark, because Jesus is there. Hope is about not quitting when all seems lost, because I know that God is greater than all of these things.
The Psalmist said it well when he made that little, but powerful statement: "Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him..."
Hope in what? GOD.
And so I choose to continue to hope, to put my heart on the line, to be vulnerable and to trust that regardless of what I want, what I get will be good, because I'm staking my heart on GOD. God Himself will never disappoint me. A glimpse of God is enough to fill my soul and heal my heart.
Hope allows me to smile as I drive down I-70 and stare into the cornfields, even though all is not right in my little world.
Hope in my heart shouts to the pondering world that my God deserves to be trusted!
Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
And why are thou disquieted within me?
Hope thou in God....
For I shall yet praise Him,
Who is the health of my countenance, and my God.