Alison Gibson is one of my dearest friends. We grew up in the same small town in the Northwest Territories - her mother was my kindergarten teacher! Our slightly different ages meant that we didn't actually spend time together in our youth, but all these years later we have settled not five minutes from each other here on Prince Edward Island. I'm thankful for her friendship and her insight into life lived with God, and life lived with hope. She says, "hope is about Jesus, not about me!"
The word "hope" can be thrown about recklessly. I do it all the time. "I hope it is sunny tomorrow." "I hope Sobey's has butter on sale soon." "I hope that warning light on the van doesn't mean anything serious."
I have hoped more desperately for many things, things that truly mattered to me. Two years ago, when I was almost 11 weeks pregnant I hoped that the signs of miscarriage were wrong. I have hoped through 14 years of marriage that my husband would be healed of the mysterious illness that plagues him. I have hoped for relationships to be mended, for stress to decrease, for more time, for more money when income and expenses just didn't balance out. I have hoped for stability and a 'home' for my children through many moves across 3 countries and 3 provinces.
None of these hopes is wrong, but as the circumstances of life play out there is inevitably grief and disappointment when some hopes are not fulfilled, if we have set our hearts on them. As if this isn't hard enough, like the grief over a baby I will never hold, I have discovered that even a hope fulfilled can feel... empty. If I hope for years that I will one day have a 'home' and then finally arrive, only to discover that the home has its flaws, what then? If I hope for the new job, the new baby, the husband, the holiday and then those things happen, or they come and go, and I still feel a gnawing discontent, what then?
In all earthly, human hope like this there is a sense of waiting. This is the hope that says, "One day... If only...." But there is another hope. This hope is a gift from God. The waiting is completed in Christ Jesus. As the Israelites in the Old Testament hoped for deliverance, they looked to the day prophesied when the Messiah, the Saviour would come. All would be different then. If only He would come! As Christians this side of the resurrection, we look back on hope fulfilled. We can live in the present of hope fulfilled.
We need this true hope. It doesn't fade. It isn't swayed by the winds of circumstances. It is always fulfilled. Not later. NOW.
We almost need a different word for this kind of hope. Hope that is so real it supports us. It is not a mild mannered hope. It stands defiantly against the suffering thrown at us. It is a bulwark standing firm against the enemy attack.
How do we live in hope, immersed in a place of contentment? Romans 5 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
We have a choice when suffering hits us. We can choose to walk through the suffering with God and allow Him to shape us through it, or we can struggle on in our own strength. True endurance is not picking ourselves up time and again when we get knocked down. It is continuing to believe that God is good. God is faithful. God is our ever present help in times of trouble. If we choose to seek God in times of suffering, we encounter a shift in perspective. We begin to hope less for our own comfort and hope more for the glory of God to be revealed in our lives.
My hope can be summed up in one word. It is always fulfilled. It is sustaining. It is true. It is eternal. It is "Jesus."
But how I hear you say. There is only one answer that I know of. No shortcuts. It is to look for the presence of God in all your circumstances. He is there, but you need to see Him. Praise Him. Thank Him. Listen for His voice.... and crucially believe that He is good even when everything around you feels so, so bad. His presence changes everything.
I am writing this the day before the 2 year anniversary of my baby, at 12 weeks gestation, being born. When I was having labour pains, lying alone and afraid in the spare room of the house we were living in, I cried out to God, "This hurts so much, but the pain is for nothing!" God answered, "The labour pains speak of life. Your baby is not dead, she lives with me."
That same day, as the labour pains progressed, I prayed about the baby I would never meet this side of death. I believed God had said the baby was a girl but prayed for a name. I wanted the baby to have a name that meant "love" for I already loved her so much! I thought that later, I could search for such a name. A few hours later, my brother was praying for me over the phone and the name "Amanda" flashed into my mind. When I looked it up, I found that it means "She who must be loved." God himself had named my baby.
Do I continue to grieve? Yes. I have experienced deep sorrow. Yet somehow, God's voice spoken into the darkness brings assurance. I have thrown myself into God through this pain and He has answered. If tempted to doubt His goodness, I read Scripture that speaks otherwise. I pray with a soft heart.
When I first went to emergency at the start of the miscarriage, I continued to "hope" the baby would live. I prayed desperately, "Lord, let her life make an impact and glorify God."
This prayer has been answered... in the true hope that has been birthed in me. Jesus' presence changes everything.