Monday, February 23, 2009

holding on to hope

Hope can sometimes be difficult to find these days. As my life becomes further and further entwined with the broken lives of my clients, I realize the courage involved in this thing called hoping. Hope takes courage because it is risky; it involves putting ourselves out there, wearing our hearts on our sleeves with the full knowledge that things may not turn out as we’d wanted them to.

This has been especially apparent around Feed My Sheep these days. Two of the clients who had been winning their battle with alcoholism have relapsed entirely. We hear tales of them passed out in their own messes, or bruised after a return to those who abuse them. Three other clients finally hit bottom and asked for help—we sent two off to rehab and one back to be with supportive family. This is cause for rejoicing, and we hope for them. Yet we also feel the pull toward guarding ourselves from the possibility of their failure, from the prospect of a day when they, too, will return to the bottle and reacquaint themselves with a life of self-destruction. Others simply suffer, and we wonder how to speak hope to them. One man just found out that his daughter is in a coma, unlikely to recover. His other two children are already dead. As he stumbles into the shelter and cries out to me in his drunkenness that a man should not outlive his children, I feel at a loss for words.

The battle for hope does not end with work. In my personal life, I find myself facing long struggles that seem never-ending. At times the weight of longing for freedom and healing seems too much. When eloquence is rendered futile by the unutterable things of the heart, I return often to Luther’s prayer: “I am yours; Save me” Teach me to hope, I ask the One whom Paul calls “the God of hope.” Teach me to hope.

A rereading of Hebrews 11:1 recently underscored for me the importance of this risky thing called hope: “But faith is the substance/realization of what we hope for; it is the proof/inner-conviction of things not seen” (translation mine). A look back at Hebrews 6 recalls the centrality of faith to being a true Christ-follower: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God…” Yet a closer look at verse 11:1 reveals that the definition of faith comes with an assumption: it assumes we are hoping for something. To surrender hope renders faith null and void: The verse would basically read, “But faith is the realization of…nothing.” We can’t lay aside hope, saying “I’ll believe it when I see it,” and pass it off as part of surviving the job. It is simply impossible to give up hope and still claim to be a people of faith.

I long for our ministry to be founded on deep and abiding faith. I hunger for my own life to be a life marked by confident trust. And so I must take the risk: I must never give up hope, no matter how painful and vulnerable it can be. I must never shut down the places of my heart that long for things I can’t yet see. Faith is the realization of hope that my clients can overcome, that broken hearts can find restoration, that long battles can be won. And hope is the daring choice to allow God the chance to prove that the promise is true.

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