I’ve been feeling tugged these past few days towards a dim perspective… that slow, shadowy creep of pessimism: the expectation that certain things will never be restored, renewed, or returned. It feels so realistic. It feels rational. It feels a bit obvious even.
This shade of pessimism is a safe place in which to hunker down – safe because the risk of being wrong, the risk of disappointment, is not so frightening. If I expect the worst, anything even incrementally better is a bonus, right? Expecting the worst isn’t risky, it isn’t dicey. I can theoretically protect my heart from disappointment by disappointing it myself with my own expectations before anything beyond my control can disappoint it (if that makes sense).
But there’s a doggedly persistent part of my brain that just won’t have it. This part of my brain – or perhaps my heart – knows (and it knows well) that all these gloomy self-protective mechanisms have nothing to do with Truth or Christ. This part of me knows that whether it’s risky or not, I am made – created as a new creation in Jesus – to hope.
Hope is my new language. Hope is my currency. Hope is my sustenance.
And no matter how willfully (with self-protective intentions) I try to snuff out my hope in a few key areas – while keeping it alive in others – the flicker of that flame will not be dimmed. Hope is the heartiest and least quenchable flame I’ve ever encountered. It won’t go out. It simply won’t.
So I play little mind games… I say to myself, “Em, don’t ever expect that to happen, don’t look for that to be restored… You blew it. You ruined it. And, while God can make you new, He can’t restore that.” I think I’m being so reasonable and practical when I think such things. I think I’m building a little padded room around my heart to protect it from the risk of disappointment… the risk of hope.
But the flame licks at that padded cell, and hope blazes once more within me – unquenchable.
And my heart jumps with longing for all the redemption, healing, restoration, wholeness, and beauty that seems downright impractical, illogical, and undeserved. I know very well the risk of expecting very certain and specific situations to unfold in very certain and specific ways – that risk (of disappointment and disillusionment when things turn out differently) is the very thing that repels me from hoping for particular outcomes. That risk is what drives me under the shadow of pessimism.
But, in Christ, it is not an “either, or.” My options are not either sink yourself into pessimism to protect your heart from the sting of disappointment, or set all your hopes upon a specific and particular set of outcomes. No. Both of those paths are dead-ends, and neither nurtures the true and blazing flame of hope. The one is a refusal to let the optimism of God permeate my heart, and the other is a prideful posturing that says I must have this exactly as I want it or I will be crushed.
Hope is neither of these.
Real, sturdy, red-hot hope is something far less predictable and far more exhilarating. True hope – the hope born of God – looks at my tomorrow and has the guts to be honest, to pour out – with tears perhaps – my desires before the Lord. It doesn’t shy away from telling Him that I so deeply want this relationship healed and restored or that long-held dream revived and fulfilled. Honesty becomes this hope. But so, too, does surrender. Indeed, this hope is clear-headed enough to know that I am often very short-sighted in my knowledge of what is best for me. The hope born of God has open and lifted hands – lifting up to Him every dearly held desire and tenderly nursed dream, and waiting with palms spread for whatever Good and generous gift He will give.
And friends, His gifts will always be Good and generous. That is the foundation of our very existence upon this earth – the overabundant and self-sacrificing Love of God: the Father who killed His Son on our behalf… the Father who runs out to embrace the prodigal, placing a robe on his back, shoes on his feet, and a ring on his finger.
Hope knows this about God.
Hope expects nothing less from Him than the deepest and purest satisfaction and delight.
But hope also knows things might look differently than I now prefer or expect them to look.
That is the unpredictable nature of hope; we are not in control. Our hearts leap with certain longings, with desires, with expectations… and we hand those longings, desires, and expectations right up to the Father, as expectant children. He tenderly allows us to whisper into His ear what we’d like, how we’d prefer things to go, and then He sweeps us up into His arms and does the thing that is very best for us.
Our lives are secure in His arms, but they are not predictable. We are safe, our specific dreams are not. But the Father will not allow us to crawl under the shadow of pessimism – our hope blazes on.
So I conclude with this thought… for myself and for whoever might relate…
Let’s stop expecting the worst. But let’s stop, too, setting all our hopes on one particular outcome. Instead, let’s courageously step out into the warm light of the Father’s optimism – with full awareness that we don’t know the specifics of our tomorrows. I want to be honest with Him about my deepest desires for restoration and redemption and healing. I want to offer Him a vulnerable heart – stripped of its self-protective strategies – that throbs with desire for His good plans for me, whatever they might look like. Do you want the same?
Friend, let’s nurture this flame of hope. In Christ, the end is always better than the beginning; tomorrow always bears a few more shades of glory than today. Of that we can be sure…
Father, I will not dwell in the dim shadows of pessimism any longer. Take me by the hand and draw me out into Your warm rays.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
For hope, for life, for Christ.