There have been a few times in my life within the last two decades that I have pursued a study on the topic of hope. The first study came out of a time of conflict. I was deeply troubled and reading scripture for guidance and comfort. I stumbled on Romans 5 where I read that we can glory or rejoice in tribulation or sufferings because they produce patience or perseverance which in turn produces proven character and character produces hope. And the hope produced is the kind that does not disappoint because God’s love gets poured into our hearts in the process. Getting from trouble and trials to hope. That is a message we need today.
We come to worship on this Sunday before our national election in the context of hope and fear. Our current political and cultural environment is and has been more contentious than any in most of our memories. This presidential election cycle seems to have brought about attitudes and behaviors that serve to deepen the divide among us on many issues. Whatever the outcome of the election there will be rejoicing for some and lamenting for others. Oh, yes, there is the Coronavirus pandemic too. Fear abounds. It’s hard to find hope today.
I have been considering how we can nurture a hope that does not disappoint in times like these. I’m not alone. I’ve read a book, listened to sermons and read many articles blogs from widely differing perspectives on the topic of nurturing hope. Some have had helpful suggestions. Most work with a definition of hope that is less than satisfying to me.
Here are several definitions of hope I’ve found:
From the great scholar Google: A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
Most of us hope that the election will have a certain outcome. For slightly less than half of us, our hope WILL disappoint us. So, that definition is not about a sustaining hope.
From the Center for Loss and Life Transition: Hope is an expectation of a good that is yet to be…It is forward looking yet experienced in the now.
Miriam Webster states: before the 12 century the meaning of hope was trust or reliance.
Dictionary.com offers: A person or thing on which one may base some hope, a source of hope.
This would be the meaning in the cry, “Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope!” This comes closer to the archaic and biblical understanding of hope as a trust or reliance.
In Psalm 42 and 43 the Psalmist is giving himself a good talking to and says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Hope that does not disappoint is hope IN something or someone reliable, not hope FOR a particular outcome. I hear this thought in Romans 15:13 where Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Here are some of the Old Testament verses that talk about this kind of sustaining hope.
Psalm 33:20 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
Psalm 33:22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
Psalm 62:5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from God.
Micah 7:7 But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
I hope IN God. I trust that God is, that God sees and knows all of us, and that God is with us. In troubled times I rely on that foundation to guide me through tricky decisions. That foundation leads me to rest, trust, or have faith IN God. And God is love.
SO, here, today, in the middle of our muddled and troubled times, how do we nurture a sustaining hope in God?
I John 4 tells us. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
One of the practices that nurtures hope in me stems from this juxtaposition of love and fear. Love casts out fear. Fear stops the flow of love. When I find myself reacting to ideas, words, or events in this perplexing environment, I ask, “Does this thought, line of reason, discussion, or action come from or lead to love or fear? Particularly in addressing my own reactions, the simple question, “Does this reaction come from love or fear?” has been helpful. At first, I thought the question too simplistic. My reactions come from many places. But in sitting with the question I have found that underneath other emotions such as anger, frustration, confusion, and hurt often lies fear. It has also helped to ask this question when I encounter opinions or perspectives that seem hurtful or antagonistic to me. Is this line of thought motivated by love or fear? Is this person doing their best to address what they understand from love or fear? Either answer evokes compassion in me.
A similar practice comes from the Ignatian spiritual principles of consolation and desolation. A state of consolation moves us toward God and community with other people. It moves us toward faith, hope, and love. It brings life and creative energy. A state of desolation moves us inward and away from God and others. It saps our joy and energy and evokes negative emotions such as fear, resentment, or anger. In my reductionist vernacular I ask myself, “Is this life giving or life sucking?” People, thoughts, activities, etc. may be classified this way. If something is life sucking, stop it! What brings you life and joy? What brings you closer to God and others? Do that!
1 Corinthians 10 contains instructions that seem particularly helpful for our times. I read, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Taking our thoughts captive is a way of nurturing hope.
One way of taking our thoughts captive is to look for the good and beautiful in the present moment. This is a tool for practicing mindfulness, being present to what is right before us in each moment. Though not as fun as looking for the good and beautiful, looking for what is true about our condition which is sometimes dark or ugly is also helpful. Naming our condition such as, “I’m exhausted. I’m disappointed. I’m afraid. I’m mad.” can also be a starting place to take our thoughts captive by acknowledging our condition.
I think a lot of us are experiencing the grief of loss these days. Loss of freedom, loss of routine, loss of life-giving practices, loss of those we love, loss of community as we have known it, loss of almost everything familiar. How are you holding this loss and grief?
When we practice evaluating our thoughts and experiences and how we invest our time and energy, we are moving ourselves into spaces of life, truth and rest that nurture hope. Does this thought or action come from or produce love or fear? Is this activity or line of reasoning life giving or life sucking? What is my condition right now?
The notion of sabbath rest, taking a day to restore our energy and focus on our spiritual life, can nurture hope. It is a life-giving practice. Jesus took time away from the constant demands of people to be alone and pray. Even a short break for a walk or a nurturing conversation that reconnects us to someone can nurture hope. Psalm 121 begins,” I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
The practices of prayer and worship can nurture hope that sustains and grounds us. Isaiah 40:31 states, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Is also translated, “Those who trust in the Lord” or “Those who wait on the Lord.” The Hebrew word translated hope, wait, and trust is qavah. It is a primitive root word literally meaning to bind together such as in twisting fibers to form yarn or rope. Figuratively it means to expect or look for, wait on. It carries the notion of gathering. When we gather with others in the presence of God, wait on God together, or individually engage in practices that bind us together with the Holy One, we can find hope that renews our strength. Worship restores our perspective by lifting our eyes from our current struggles to a larger picture where we can be grounded in grace and love. Prayer allows us to release our anxieties and reminds us that we are not alone. It is a place of internal rest in God that creates an opportunity for hope to arise within us.
Some days, however, it all just seems too much. Hope is elusive because our energy has been consumed by figuring out how to navigate life right now with integrity. Our compassion has been exhausted by the barrage of information bringing yet more bad news. The pandemic, the climate, fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, politics, we just can’t take it anymore. I like this idea from Alan D Wolfelt who writes about grief and loss. He says, “If hope feels out of reach right now consider borrowing a little to get you through.”
Solomon in Ecclesiastes 4 stated, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?”
How do we borrow hope from one another? I think that happens when we share our stories. I grew up in a church that met Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night every week. Sunday night services always included a testimony time. We told our God stories to one another. I heard old ladies recount the many ways God had faithfully provided for them. I heard crusty old guys tell stories of God’s protection with teary eyes and grateful hearts. I tested my own thoughts and experiences of God as a child and young person and had a loving community that willingly listened to my words. Of course, one did not stray too far from the doctrinal guidelines without being called aside for correction.
As the demonstrations relating to racial justice turned violent in recent months, television images triggered my memories of the protests and civil unrest of the 1960’s. I had no one to help guide me through the emotions those images provoked as a child and young person. It occurred to me that many of the young people in our faith community today may be feeling similar fear and confusion. I took the opportunity to tell my stories from the sixties to them and how though it felt like the end of the world, it was not. I was lending hope, if not borrowing it.
Scripture often called God’s people to set up monuments, create holy days and celebrations to remind each other of the stories of God’s provision and faithfulness upon which their faith rested. Jesus himself instituted the Lord’s supper and instructed, “This do in remembrance of me.” What practices do we have now that remind us where to find hope? How do we practice the borrowing and lending of hope today?
In the last two weeks we have had a family adventure with the coronavirus. This journey has brought to my attention a few realities. Despite our best efforts and intentions, we can’t control what happens. We CAN choose the attitude with which we respond. I had more symptoms than most of my family members who had tested positive for Covid. Yet, I tested negative twice. Didn’t I talk about liminal spaces last time I spoke for Spokane Friends? That not knowing is hard. Eventually my Dr. made a Covid diagnosis despite the tests. In the process I realized that I have done pretty well giving up the need for control. I have NOT given up the need to understand. The doctor who did contact tracing with our family said we would probably not figure out how the virus came to us. It was simply a gift from the community at large.
There are lots of things I do not understand right now. I do not understand why people do what they do. I do not understand how people can think what they think. I do not understand why as a country we seem to have given up on civility. It is easy to lose hope. However, we can choose hope. Here are some questions that help me navigate confusing times and lead me toward hope.
- Where is the truth? (In this report/conversation/discussion/comment)
- How could this change or be transformed to the good?
- What can I be grateful for?
- What does love look like in this situation?
Here are three suggestions about what love may look like from Romans 12. Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.
If I am rejoicing in the next few weeks, how will I weep with those who weep? What will love look like in that situation? If I am weeping in the next few weeks, how will I rejoice with those who rejoice? What will love look like then? What posture or act of love will allow me to live in harmony with those around me, even when I feel persecuted?
I have been intrigued with the statement in 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter on love that ends, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Here are three things that can be trusted in or relied on. How do they relate to one another?
In Colossians 1:3-5 Paul writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven.” In Paul’s thinking faith and love spring up from the ground of hope.
This notion seems correct to me. Hope is forward looking. Without a grounding in trust or reliance in God, or some other basic good, how can we love? If I don’t trust in some greater grace or benevolence, what would I have faith in?
So, in the days and weeks before us, some will be rejoicing and others lamenting. Our hope is not in the results of this election or any other outcome. Our hope is in God. How do we nurture that hope?
- We choose love over fear.
- We choose life-giving activities over life-sucking ones.
- We engage in sabbath rest.
- We gather in personal and communal worship and prayer.
- We tell the stories that remind us what we place our hope IN.
- We choose hope.
This message was given by Leann Williams to Spokane Friends Meeting (via Zoom) on Sunday, November 1, 2020.