There are a lot of really great reasons to have hope.
- By focusing on the possible positive outcomes, you take your mind off the negative possibilities, relieving yourself of that worry and anxiety.
- The expression “hope floats” demonstrates hope’s ability to keep us “buoyed” – our spirits are high when we are looking forward to something good.
- Hope motivates us to action. When you’re believing in a positive outcome, you take steps toward making that happen. Just like a pregnant woman prepares her nursery in happy anticipation of her child’s arrival, hope enables us to take measures to prepare ourselves for the good things coming down the pike.
I think the main reason most of us don’t actively hope is fear. When you have been hurt or disappointed so many times, you want to “guard your heart”, as the Bible says. Only, I don’t think “guarding your heart” means exactly what we’ve often interpreted it to mean. I don’t think it means do whatever you can to keep pain out. Rather, it means surrounding yourself with those things that give life to your spirit, with people who encourage you, with Scripture that speaks truth, and with faith, hope, and love. In doing so, you will protect your heart – not from pain ever getting to it, but from being crushed under the weight of that pain.
But, I get that fear.
I have been very disappointed in one particular area over and over again, and that’s the area where I struggle to have hope. When I go shopping, I have no trouble hoping that I will find some cute clothes; my experience has taught me that is likely to happen. I also find it easy to hope that when I go out in downtown Nashville, I will hear good music and talk to interesting people. I’ve learned to have a confident expectation of that result.
But, what about those areas where I haven’t had good results? Where I have been rejected or overlooked or turned away time and again? Those areas that actually really matter to me, deep down? What about those hopes for each of us of getting married, or having a child, or being matched for an adoption, or getting a promotion, or passing the licensure exam, or fill in the blank… How do I have hope when everything seems to indicate I really should keep my expectations low?
Those are the times when hope is absolutely the hardest. But, those are also the times when we must have hope. We must fight for it, for all the reasons mentioned above, and so many more.
If a situation is certain, there is no reason to have hope. At that point, you’re essentially just stating a fact. Yes, I have hope every night that when I go to sleep, my bed won’t collapse; however, that’s never happened, and I know the wood in my bed is sturdy and assembled well. So, I’m really just assured of fact at that point.
I mentioned yesterday that there was one more definition of hope according to Merriam-Webster. Technically, I guess it’s a definition for the expression, “hope against hope”, but it says, “to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment”. Similarly, Romans 8:24-25 says, “…[H]ope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
We can’t wait until things look like they’re going in our favor to have hope. We must have hope now and confidently expect God to move on our behalf.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
Many of you are probably familiar with this proverb. I’ve heard it a million times and always thought it meant that hope unfulfilled makes the heart sick. And, I think it does. But, I also think that it refers to putting off hope. By trying to protect ourselves from pain by delaying having hope, we’re doing the exact opposite. We’re depriving ourselves of the peace and joy that comes from anticipating that God will move in our lives. We’re giving room to anxiety and worry and becoming pessimistic. And we are limiting the joy we can experience when something good does happen as a culmination of our hopes and dreams.
I think putting off hope also can create self-fulfilling prophecies. Earlier I mentioned how hope motivates us to action. The converse, though, is that if we don’t have hope, we are motivated to inaction. How many great things never happen because we’re too afraid they might not work out? By failing to act, we create the very scenario we were afraid of in the first place. You’re afraid the boss might find you too forward if you mention taking on more responsibility, so you stay silent; he assumes you aren’t interested in a promotion, and you get passed over. You’re afraid you might not be successful in that career, so you don’t pursue licensure and stay in a dead end job you don’t love. You think long-distance relationships seldom work, so you break up before you have a chance to try.
However, hope actually minimizes disappointments.
To use my earlier scenarios, I don’t lose hope if I shop and find nothing. I’m bummed, of course, because I like new clothes. But, I have the confident and happy expectation that the next time I shop, I’ll find something. If I go downtown and the band sounds terrible and no one talks to me, I might wish I’d stayed home and watched a movie instead, but I don’t assume I’ll never hear good music or meet interesting people again. And I certainly don’t think something is wrong with me. I just assume it was an off night and have hope that the next time I go, it will be better.
Disappointments always come. It’s a part of life, especially since while we know that God’s plans are best, we don’t always know what those best plans are. But, if we have hope, we can bounce back quicker from that disappointment. We can take things in stride, knowing that something else good is around the corner. God’s Word promises that since even human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, our Heavenly Father does even more. It also says that the righteous have never been forsaken or God’s children had to beg for bread (Ps. 37:25).
So, while we may not have, as M-W says, “any basis for expecting fulfillment” in our particular situation, we do have basis to expect God to do good things in our lives because that’s who He is, and He has before. Just like David knew God could equip him to kill Goliath because he’d killed the lion and the bear, so we can look back on our experiences and see the many ways God has worked in our lives, even in ways we didn’t anticipate or in circumstances that seemed, well, hopeless. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so if He came through before, He will come through again – sometimes in the exact ways we’re hoping, sometimes in ways that exceed what we hoped for, and sometimes in ways that are completely different than what we imagined. But, He always comes through.
Where have you been deferring hope in your life? Have you put it off because you’re afraid of the disappointment? Think through the worst case scenario, and imagine what it will be like if you do have hope versus if you don’t. If the end result is going to be the same, won’t it be better to go into it hopeful, and then emerge still hopeful? And maybe, in the process, we will find what we were hoping for all along. But, as the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace said, EVEN IF we do not, we are able to still praise God because He is good, and so are His ways in our lives.
(Thank you to Joyce Meyer and her book, Get Your Hopes Up!, for inspiration on several of these points.)
(Part 2 of a 3-part series)