Hope: Friend or Foe?

Hope LetterpressI’ve been thinking about hope lately.

Last year on Mother’s Day, we assembled a panel of moms from our congregation, and asked them questions. My wife was on the panel, and part of what she talked about was our own struggle with secondary infertility before the birth of our second child.

One of the challenges she mentioned was how we faced a constant battle with hope. We wanted to have another child, but there was no guarantee that we would. The hope itself was painful at times, but we couldn’t let go of it either. We needed our hope, but our hope also punched us in the gut every single month for nearly 2 years.

Most of us face this tension at some point or other: Is hope my friend or my enemy? What if the things I hope for never happen? Am I a fool to hope for things I cannot guarantee will happen? Should I simply give up on hope altogether? But if I do, won’t I just turn into a faithless cynic?

I’ve often read Romans 5:3-5 and wondered what Paul was trying to say. What does he mean when he says, “hope does not disappoint”? It seems strange; there’s no doubt that sometimes hope does just that – it disappoints us. Is he simply saying that we should give up on earthly hopes and just accept that all our hopes will be realized in heaven? But then what’s the point of enduring earthly trials at all?

If it’s clear that some kinds of hope disappoint us, what kind of hope doesn’t?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to wrestle with the paradox of hope more and more often. And I think I’ve started to see a slightly clearer picture of what Romans 5 is talking about. The hope Paul wrote about is a hope that is forged specifically through enduring trials. He describes this chain of events: trial brings about endurance, endurance brings about proven character, and proven character brings about hope. And that type of hope, the hope that springs out of trial, doesn’t “put us to shame.” It doesn’t humiliate us or let us down.

I used to think, “OK, so hope doesn’t put us to shame, because we are hoping to go to heaven one day, and then everything will be alright again.”

But that’s not what Paul says here. Our hope is not rooted in going to heaven someday, at least not right here in this passage. This hope is rooted in something else, something we have right now: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Our hope is rooted in God’s love, the love we have right now through the Holy Spirit. Our hope emerges from an ever-deepening understanding that God loves us. God loves us so much that He gave His Son for us (Romans 6:6-7). That’s the objective proof of God’s love. But Paul takes us even further than that.

The reason that endurance produces hope is that enduring trials leads us to a greater and greater understanding of the love of God on a personal level. In other words, we don’t simply know about God’s love, we actually feel it. As our character is tested by trials, we paradoxically feel God’s love in a deeper way – not some future version of God’s love, but a “right-now” version of His love. In our hearts. Today.

Here’s what I’ve found on a practical level in the midst of trial: At every single stage of that trial, I am forced to ask myself, “Do I really believe that God loves me? Even now? Do I really believe that He is the Giver of every good gift, even now?” If my answer to that is, “No,” then my suffering is meaningless, and my hope turns to despair. If God doesn’t see me, if He doesn’t care, than hope truly is my enemy. But if the answer to that question is, “Yes,” then there is always, always hope. And it’s a friendly hope.

It’s a hope that is rooted squarely in the reality of God’s love for me. He loves me right now, He’s working everything out for good right now (that’s Romans 8:28), and He sees me right now, and He’s with me right now. Yes, I have the hope of a future resurrection, but I also have the hope that something critical and meaningful is happening in me and through me right now.

And the more I train my mind and my heart to cling to that type of hope, the more I come to realize that it never disappoints me, even when things don’t work out like I hoped they would. I start to see all of life through the lens of a greater hope – I see evidence of God’s work where I previously saw a barren wasteland of hopelessness. The trials don’t hurt any less, but somehow my hope in God grows ever deeper.

This isn’t a straight line of ever-increasing hope and trust, by the way. All too often, when I ask myself the question, “Does God love me, even now,” I find that my heart and mind respond, “I’m not so sure.” But the longer I walk with Him, the more I have days when I say, “Yes. I don’t see it clearly right now, but I trust Him anyway.”

And so my character is trained to trust Him. Because either God is at work in the midst of life’s pain, or despair is the only logical option. And the deeper I lean into the love of God, poured out in my heart through the Holy Spirit, the more I see that this kind of hope never disappoints. Regardless of what happens to me next, God loves me right now, and God sees me right now, and God is at work even now to make all things new.

So there is always hope. And we can make friends with hope, because we know that this sort of hope never disappoints.

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Mom is the Glue

Last year, I wrote a post for Father’s Day about the life lessons I’d learned from my dad. Writing a post about my mom is harder in some ways. It’s not that I learned less from her than from my dad. Instead, it’s that the things I learned from her are so much a part of the warp and woof of my life, it’s often hard to consciously reflect upon them.

To put it simply, my mom has always been the glue of our family, a sort of spiritual force holding us all together. Our ideas about God and family and relationships often originated from the tone she set in our home. She held us together more with the force of her character and her actions than with her words, although she taught us with words when necessary. More than that, though, she modeled what it means to love God and others in the context of daily life.

I learned to think deeply about God from my dad, but I think I learned to love Him from my mom. She knew how to connect God’s Word to the daily struggles of life. She taught my brothers and me to be unashamed in identifying with Jesus.

Because she believed that the church is God’s hope for the world, she actively volunteered and worked at church. We spent a lot of time there, not out of a sense of legalistic obligation, but because she loves the church and wanted us to love it also. And all of us still do. I’m the only one of her sons who works at a church, but my brothers and their families love the body of Christ as much as I do. Mom taught us to see church as an extension of our relationship with Christ rather than as just another activity.

Mom taught us about joy and laughter. My kids sometimes roll their eyes at the silly songs I compose around the house, songs about making their beds or doing the dishes. They say they don’t like those little songs, but they always say it with a laugh. I said the same thing when my mom sang them — I was embarrassed or felt awkward and please could she stop? Today, all I remember about them is the laughter.

She didn’t only laugh at her own jokes. She laughed at ours, and encouraged us to be creative and funny and joyful. I remember stepping out of the car once on a very windy day. I could hardly stay upright and my hair must have been standing on end. I looked at Mom and jokingly shouted, “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!” Mom laughed at my dumb joke, until she nearly cried with laughter.

When I preach, people sometimes comment on my humorous illustrations. Mom was my first receptive audience. She taught me that life is too serious not to laugh. Laughter is a gift from God, a grace that soothes the pain of a fallen world. 

I learned from her that you can find joy and comfort even in the midst of failure, and that losing isn’t as bad as refusing to try. In 3rd grade, I made it to a county-wide spelling bee. I lost in the final rounds by misspelling a relatively simple word, one I should have known. Later that night my mom presented me with a poem she had composed about my adventures in the spelling bee and how brave I was. My dad told me to treasure it, since she rarely wrote in verse. In fact, I still have the poem. It reminds me that we learn as much from failure as from success, and that life is boring if you only play games you are certain to win.

I’ll end with this: I learned from my mom that love really is the glue that binds families together. And love isn’t always dramatic or loud. Usually it means being present and available. Despite having three sons and seven grandchildren, she rarely misses a significant milestone. She and my dad travel around the state and country to be there for birthdays, class presentations, soccer games, and other events. She calls me and my wife when she knows something important is going on, just to let us know she’s praying. She learned to text and use social media, largely so she could view and share pictures of her family.

As I’m sure is true with many moms, her love for our family is a reflection of the love of God. When I say I learned to love God from my mom, I think I really mean that I learned how much He loves me. It’s a gift that’s hard to quantify, but one for which I’m forever grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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