Updated: Aug 5
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NRSV)
I have this tendency to hope for unrealistic things. After a day of nannying three (albeit wonderful) kids and lugging around my 20 pound 4-month old, I drive my Subaru Outback home with grandiose visions of a perfectly clean house courtesy of my wonderful husband who is cooking a healthy and aromatic dinner that will be finished just as soon as I am done taking a relaxing bubble bath. After dinner we’ll play with our happy boy who goes to sleep without a fuss and he’ll listen about my day with an almost fierceness, intent on capturing every word. And what’s that over there? He bought me flowers and new shoes, how wonderful! And then we’ll cap off the night watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where no one dies and everyone stays in love and it ends and I don’t feel like crawling into a dark hole. And then … I open my front door and am immediately disappointed.
There are days when I will get home and be instantly upset that my reality and hope didn’t match up and that is obviously someone else’s fault. Doesn’t he know by now how hard I work? Doesn’t he know that I love a clean kitchen? Doesn’t he know that some nights I just want to come in and sit down and not have to work so hard anymore? And don’t I know that he works just as hard, he loves a clean house just as much and would also love to come home and sit down? Don’t I know he hopes for the same things? Maybe the hope we both share means work from equal sides.
Now, I’m not going to just make this into a marriage counseling blurb but the example holds true for hope in much of our lives. We hope for good things, better things, sometimes even big things, and we go on hoping, so often expecting to be disappointed. I think we need to ask ourselves if what we are doing is hoping in a bigger than life God or a genie in a lamp.
Hoping is not the same as wishing. Hoping does not come with birthday candles, shooting stars or some sort of hocus pocus. Hope comes amidst trials and loves and journeys that have a destination that will not be reached in the clear and present future. Throughout the New Testament, Paul talks about hoping in the midst of weariness of mind, body and spirit. He wrote about hope in Christ while he was in captivity or running for his life, because he wrote of hope and grace and faith not in an ethereal sense of some nice notion, but as a new geography for those who believed.
In Romans 5:1-2 Paul writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” It is a grace in which we stand. Not a grace or a hope or a faith in which we kind of think about sometimes and post inspirational memes on Facebook about. It is a geography. If you are justified through faith by Christ you are standing in grace, love & hope wherever you go. And the great thing about it is you are not alone in that geography.
The author of Hebrews talks about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). This gives us the chance to stop making excuses about being alone in your trials, because being justified through Christ you have been transplanted into a community that is called to suffer, persevere and hope with you. Not only that, but they are a people called to remind you that your hope doesn’t come with instant results, it is part of a longsuffering ache in humanity, yearning for the Kingdom of God to come near. Hope takes work.
I am not suggesting in any fashion that working for hope negates the grace freely given and lavished upon us. But Paul did not say that since we were justified we were going to get three wishes and they should be used wisely and no wishing for more wishes but you can wish for everything to be OK and it will. He admits to suffering and that it is a long road from suffering to hope. You first have to come to terms with endurance, then character and in that building up of character hope emerges like a long awaited bud in springtime. And what a beautiful bud it will be, because hope, true hope does not disappoint us. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way we wished we have been given gifts of patience and character along the way, gifts for which we should be grateful.
So instead of wishing for a clean house and calling it hope and then getting angry that my genie didn’t pull through, I cleaned my house. I cleaned it really well and then sat down with my husband and we agreed to keep it clean for one week, being conscious of where we set down our things and what those small peccadilloes are that set off the other person. We agreed to work on it. And here, four days later, it’s not perfect but it’s got a lot more character, and I am not disappointed.
Ali can be reached via email here.