We have seen too many of our dreams dashed. Jobs lost. Relationships crumbled. Addictions have tried to destroy us and people we love dearly. Illnesses have robbed. Church experiences have hurt. Some of our adventures didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. God hasn’t delivered the goods the way we had prayed for.
So we hunker down our hearts and do whatever we can to protect it against believing that good is really possible—again, or maybe for the first time. Often, we settle for loneliness. We settle for disconnectedness. We settle for going-through-the-motions. We settle for familiar.
The thought of something more sometimes hurts too much.
What if we make ourselves vulnerable and hurt again? What if we try and they all get dashed anyway? What if we risk and lose again?
The “what ifs” mount, hope gets held at bay, and we miss out on the thing that Jesus kept pointing to over and over and over again—life now. Love now. Hope now.
This new year I am reminded that pretty much everything Jesus calls us to is quite dangerous, risky, scandalous. Why would hope be different?
Hope will require a risk. It will require sacrifice. It will require working against our reflexes to run, hide, self-protect, self-medicate. It will require believing in what is unseen. It will mean we will hurt. It will mean we will be afraid. It will mean taking steps on a path we are unfamiliar with. It will require us letting God’s spirit move in our hearts in ways that are mysterious, scary, and maybe unfamiliar.
As I write this list, I realize yet again how it’s easy to say these things, but how do we move toward getting over our fear of hope’s dangerous-ness?
Here are a few possibilities:
– Admit what we’re really afraid of. This has been my #1 practice for 2013—asking myself, “What am I afraid of?” whenever I am in some kind of tension. Usually, it’s about being afraid to fail, being misunderstood, being rejected, being unloved. Is it being afraid to fail? Are we afraid of our heart hurting? Are we afraid that we’ll just end up mad at God again? What is it that freaks us out about hope?
– Seek courage in the small steps. We sometimes have such a high expectation of ourselves, that we’re supposed to somehow “take the hill” tomorrow, having conquered all that holds us back. For me, that usually just leads to failure, shame, and anger toward myself for my lack of faith and courage. Small steps keep hope alive, especially when we celebrate them together in community.
– Expect it to hurt. Hope’s going to hurt. It’s supposed to. It means we are still really alive. Jesus made very clear that following him would mean pain, but in my humanness I keep trying to find a loophole. Hardened hearts do not hurt, but soft open hopeful ones are sure to. I think we need to get better at bracing ourselves for hope to hurt.
– Recognize that hope in circumstances is not the same as hope in God. Over and over in the scriptures the psalmists cry out “we hope in You, God … our hope is not in the world, but in You.” It is so easy to rest our hope in outcomes, tangibles, things-the-way-we-want-them-to-turn-out. This is why I have been so disappointed over the years and also why real hope is so dangerous. Real hope means accepting somehow that things may not be how we had hoped, but that our hope in God mysteriously supersedes circumstances.
– Strain to see God, feel God, hear God wherever we can. We sometimes get so blinded by our pain, fear, busyness, and self-centeredness that it becomes difficult to experience God’s spirit moving, revealing, challenging, strengthening, encouraging, and pushing. Especially when hope is waning and our anger or ambivalence is getting the best of us, we will need to strain to see God in small wacky ways that might normally be missed. In the eyes of a friend. In a word of encouragement. In a song. In the mountains or the sea. In a crisis. In our children. In a scripture. In wherever-we-feel-a-flicker-in-our-heart-that-reminds-us-God-is-with-us.
Yeah, hope is dangerous. I am afraid of it, too, but I sense God nudging me in all kinds of ways to let him fan more and more of it into flame—to risk my pride, my heart, my comfort on hope’s behalf.
I love Romans 15:13 in The Message:
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
This new month of a new year, as we focus on hope at SheLoves, I pray that we will be willing to open ourselves up to hope’s dangers. To risk on its behalf. To take steps toward life that scare us. To let God’s spirit move in ways that make our hearts come painfully alive. To open our hearts to justice, mercy, and beauty in new ways.
To let hope propel us to love.