When hope hurts

My friend and I recently coined a term we like to call “hope snatching.” It is, just as it sounds, the process of getting your hopes up for something only to have the desired result or end product absolutely fall through your fingers in a most devastating blow. It’s when the seeds have been planted; when the tiniest ember catches tinder and glows into flame; when potential burns through your veins and catches your throat in unexpected ways. But then – the upheaval. The storm. The crashing letdown and chilling freeze.

And you are shattered, once again.

Sometimes, hope is hard to find. Sometimes, it really is hard to trust God – to discern the path, to continue walking in faith long after the road gives way to faded footsteps.

Sometimes, hope hurts.

I spent Sunday morning strolling a beach that runs along Lake Michigan. I walked alone, under a sunless sky, the tendrils of my thoughts dancing as erratically as the waves hitting the shore. The water was so vast. Endless gallons of blue melted into the horizon, while endless more pounded onto the beach. The shoreline takes a heavy beating, I thought, but grows strong. Firm. I veered upward, toward the dunes, where the sand crumbled under my feet. Dry and fragile.

I walked, reflecting on the realization that I’ve been praying a lot of Romans 8 type prayers lately. The heavy, inward kind that only escape in wordless groans. For some, the whole of 2020 has been like that. It’s as though our very souls have been split, just as Paul wrote oh so many years ago, into two distinct parts: the part that wants to trust God and and the part that doesn’t. The part that wants to cling to hope and the part that instead insists on fear, defeat, or self-indulgent grumbling. The part that grows strong under pressure. And the part that crumbles.

When I get stuck in hopeless, thrashing waters, it can sometimes feel like the end of the world. Like drowning in responsibilities I feel too frail to carry, and reaching for dreams my fingertips will never meet. On bad days, I flail, treading water, just trying to keep afloat. On good days, my eyes scan the horizon. They search for a speck of solid ground. I swim instead of sink, and I remind myself of truths gone long unrehearsed. Sometimes, this takes the form of speaking to myself like a child. I close my eyes and paint an image of my two selves: one is seven, the other twenty-eight. I, the elder, will pat my lap and reach my arms to grab her – my younger, tender self. Her: with glistening green eyes, messy fly-aways, and a seven-year-old’s heart. She searches my expression, looking for answers, craving reassurance. She’s just trying to make sense of this world. I carry her in my mind, lift her into my arms, whisper softly. I cradle her with a comforting squeeze: Don’t you worry. Your God is good. He is your perfect Father who loves you so. Who would never do anything to deliberately hurt you. He doesn’t give as the world gives, I’d whisper.

And with some time, I’d learn the truth: that God isn’t the one who snatches our hope.

In high waters, our turbulent hearts spurn and betray the closest friend we’ve ever known. We say to our hardship, our hurt, our havoc: God did this. When we’re busy pointing fingers and crying on our knees, it becomes surprisingly easy to assign blame incorrectly. Because we simply forget. We forget that God is not the one who tempts or betrays; God is not the one who comes to steal, kill, or snatch our hope; to sink our ships or crumble our shorelines. God is not the author of such chaotic recklessness. We forget that when God gives, his gifts are good. Like Sarah’s gift of baby Isaac or humanity’s gift of endless grace, God’s giving heart is kind. And he always comes through just in time.

It can be easy forget we have an actual enemy, one who is not God, but one who indeed causes pain, havoc, and hopelessness. One who craves it, who inflicts it with a smile. At the core of our enemy’s being is deceit, and his words spill out in half-truths and lies. Satan, who is every bit as dark as God is light, every bit as cunning as God is wise, has a temporary reign over all things worldly. Satan, the enemy of the soul, has left his mark in more places than one – in hope snatched, fear, and heartbreak. But, his ruin does not get the last word.

In one of my favorite promises, God assures his children that he will work out all things for good. All things. For those who have their hope in Jesus, the waters that rush in to crush us will somehow leave us firm. Strong. Able to withstand. The troubles will come. But in so doing, they will pound down the sand and lay a solid path. Romans 8:28 harnesses the power of the sea and puts it to work, smoothing rough edges and churning up life. It’s an almost inconceivable promise, but that’s why I cling to it. I need to know that hope can heal instead of hurt. That it can make all my broken pieces whole.

God, the ultimate author of all things good, does not snatch hope. I smile into a face of glistening green eyes and fly-away hairs. I’m twenty-eight years old and still learning simple truths. Just like the tide, God is the one who draws hope in. Who lets it wash to the shore to caress my toes. Who is the horizon my eyes always search for.

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