“I hate that she has no hope.”
So said my thirteen year old about me/to me in therapy. She was angry.
What could I say?
It is hard to share appropriately with one’s children your real outlook on life. Especially if it’s bleak.
It is not that I’m hopeless. It’s simply that I have no emotional bandwidth to even think if I have hope or not. There is no emotional margin to consider such things. On a macro level I always have hope, even if it’s not for this life but the one coming. I can always find that.
But on a micro level, it’s like asking someone fully awake and haemorrhaging on the operating table if they feel hopeful about their situation. There’s no time to consider that! All they can think about – if anything at all through the pain and shock – is whether the surgeon can stitch them up in time to stop them from bleeding to death. All while their children are watching.
My daughter’s words stayed with me all week. I tried to explain at the time but it cut no ice. She is hurting so badly and I’m not providing her with any rope to climb out of the pit alongside me.
I’ve chewed on the truth this week and I recognise that, while it’s true I feel there is currently no margin for hope, that’s not the whole story. I’m also protecting myself from hope. When sufficient margin/time has been regained to allow for it, I know I am scared to make myself vulnerable to hope. To dream. To open myself up to new possibility beyond where we are right now. Beyond the debris and the broken glass and the re-creation.
Yet the consequences are grim. ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.‘ This week I see that there is another way of reading that verse. Without hope, I am a poorer version of myself. Putting off hope doesn’t do me any favours and my children desperately need to see that I have it so that they can have hope themselves. The fish stinks from the head. If I take hope off the table for the time being, they can’t see it either and we’re all heartsick.
I can’t do that to them.
So how do I allow for hope in the midst of my overwhelmed-ness, my grief, the enormous and unending minutiae of setting up a new life on the opposite side of the world? How do I make room for it?
More sleep would help.
More time will help.
St Paul always helps. He talks about hope on the macro level: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.’
Along the lines of ‘Everything will be all right in the end, and, if it’s not all right it’s not the end.’
Meantime, Paul also talks about hope on the micro level: ‘We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’
What does it mean to glory in suffering? I don’t think it means to enjoy it, that would be whack-a-doo. I think it means to own it. To recognise a) that you are suffering and b) to put it in its correct context.
i.e., as a Christian, your suffering is not outside of God’s control. He doesn’t will it upon you (ever), He’s allowed it, He’s right with you in it, you are passing through it (it’s not eternal) and He will bring good out of it.
This does not make suffering for me, “OK! Not so bad!” But it is transformative to know that any suffering is not just random bad luck, unjust and completely without point.
With that assurance I can (Step Two) persevere in it. To me, perseverance is taking on the weight and still pushing forward. Still going. Not giving up. (Bashing on regardless).
And this produces character? No, evidently not. Not all coal under pressure becomes a diamond.
The carbon that forms diamonds is much purer, and requires much greater temperatures and far more direct pressure that can only be found deep into the earth. Carbon near the surface just becomes coal.
Character is produced in human beings who are willing to go in all the way.
Because only then may we discover our character can be transformed by the heat and the pressure. We ourselves will be the proof of transformation when we come out the other side. Stronger. Wiser. More knowing. More generous. More forgiving. More patient. More kind. More Christ-like.
And THIS gives us hope. Not hope of something else, but hope of God in us. This transformation shows us that we shall not go forward from this point as the people we were before, doomed to repeat ourselves over and over again. We have been refined in the fire, God can change us. We can now hope for an encounter with the life God has for us that is new and hopeful – simply because we are too. We shall become more fruitful.
Ah, I see now. I can have hope right now in this process of transformation. That by owning the suffering I am in and persevering through it, I will be transformed. For His glory. It’s not for nothing. I will become more truly who I’m meant to be to do better things in a better way for Him. And I can hope for that transformation from glory to glory right now in the midst. It’s already happening and it will bless me too.
THIS HOPE, I can make myself vulnerable to. For there is more than this and I am being prepared for it by Him and for Him through this season of difficulty. God does have more for me.
This hope shall not put me to shame.