For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24-25 NIV)
When Nicole and I were struggling with infertility, the passage of the Bible that I kept coming back to was Romans 8:24-26. The promise of hope, that God will bring about the desires of our hearts that we cannot physically see or grasp, allowed me to keep praying and stay positive in the midst of the difficult worldly truth that we could not physically have children without medical intervention. This was wrenching, and highlighted the challenge behind accepting any word of God, but especially this one: placing our confidence in what we cannot see. If I could not find the ability to do that, I would find myself weak, overcome by the world around me and feeling impossibly inferior. If I could meet the challenge, however, then I had a new sense of purpose and the strength to keep going.
Today my life is as chaotic as ever, as I struggle to answer life questions such as: should I still be pursuing new work opportunities or stay at my current job? What project should I pursue in my free time? How can I contribute the most at home to support my wife and son? And as I stress out about these, I find myself wondering, how is this part of God’s plan for me, and those around me?
Verse 26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” For me, this may be the most powerful truth of all. I have often found myself starting to pray and then running out of words. On occasion, I may shift into tongues; more often I just fall silent and let God search my heart and mind. That is my only defense against the frustration that comes easily when I pray repeatedly with no apparent answer, or if God answers in ways I do not expect or like. With this frustration comes despair, then anger toward myself. But when I can silence my own angry voice, I can feel God working my mind over. Then I realize the truth: He knows what I really need, whether I do or not.
Of the many references to Romans I have encountered during my years as a follower of Christ, it is 8:28 that I have seen by far the most frequently, the promise that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” This is a powerful truth, but it can be hard to accept on its own, especially in times of weakness, struggle or tragedy, and surrounded by acts of evil in the world. I believe that the prior verses provide an important anchor to verse 28. When I am weak, I am usually out of balance in some way. I may not realize what is needed or feel led to ask for it, but God will sense it when I inevitably fall silent. In my experience, this cycle has worked for good in my life, although the tangible results have sometimes taken years.
It is very hard to have confidence in what we cannot see, and it can be even harder to wait patiently for it. But this is the true test of hope. Earlier in Romans, Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (5:3-4). While ‘rejoicing’ is anything but the word I would use to describe all that I have been through, all I could do was trust that God had a reason for every step of our journey and every episode of weakness therein; and that medical science would provide a means for us to have a child. I managed to trust, and now not only do we have a wonderful little boy, we have been able to help and support other couples going through the same experience. I have been able to recover more quickly in times of weakness, and I have more confidence that other answers will come in time.