When we lived in Tennessee the winters were much milder than the midwestern ones I grew up with. Sometimes this felt like a strange gift to live in a place where the wind didn’t bite your cheeks the moment you stepped outside. And sometimes it felt kind of disorienting for this Nebraska girl. The seasons were missing some of their punch.
Each year I would be surprised the first time I saw the tips of daffodils poking out of the ground. The start of spring happened earlier in Tennessee than I was used to and even with the mild winters, it always seemed like the daffodils came up before the last snow of the year had fallen. It makes for a beautiful picture to see the green tips of new life bursting through the hard dirt and cold snow. I probably should have been more excited about the promise of warmer weather and the mountains in bloom.
But I wasn’t.
I was mad.
I wasn’t ready to have hope that winter was over. Every year I would see those plants poking up through the ground and I would yell at them. “You dumb plants! What is the matter with you? Don’t you know it’s still winter? Don’t you know you’re going to freeze to death? Stay in the ground where you belong until it’s warm enough!”
Turns out, I hate hope.
But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
I had a beautiful childhood where hopes were often fulfilled. God smiled on us because we did what he wanted (or so I thought). Adulthood has not been so kind to me.
Infertility rocked my world and my faith in who God was. Every 28 days brought a fresh reminder that hope hurts and not hoping at least made the pain a little easier. And then there were the positive pregnancy tests. Hope seemed reasonable until a doctor sent me down for emergency surgery to remove the baby stuck in my fallopian tube. Cautious hope followed me through the adoption process until the phone call that informed me the little boys who so “needed” us were actually returning to a mother who now had the resources to care for them and we weren’t needed any longer.
There have been many other moments in my life where hope has been painful. The diagnosis that used words like “treatable, but not curable”, the marital issues that bubble back up when I thought they were handled, conflicts with friends I thought understood me, twists and turns of the court system as I walk alongside sisters who provide foster care, and a thousand other situations where my ideal and the real do not match up.
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.
Hope is costly. It asks us to care when apathy would be easier. It asks us to plan and dream of a day that may never come. It dares us to imagine that God could bring good from a hard thing even if it’s not the outcome we hoped for. It tells us to look for the light when our days feel like the darkest walk through the longest tunnel.
And I hate that. Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12) and I feel like there have been many days where hope deferred is the theme of my life. I can feel the green shoots poking up out of the hard, cold dirt of my heart and I yell at them, “Stupid Hope! Why are you here? Haven’t you seen what’s going on? There’s no logical reason to have hope in this situation. Stay buried until it makes more sense for you to be here.” But as much as I rage against the embers of hope, they remain. As much as I try to stomp them out, they come back. And when that hope is deferred, my heart breaks again.
I know I have missed out on the full experience of joy that comes when a desire is fulfilled because I wouldn’t allow myself the anticipation that it could ever happen. I have spent pregnancies preparing for the worst and struggling to embrace joy. I have fostered children I knew we couldn’t keep so I didn’t take many pictures that could haunt me later. . . and then we did keep those kids. I have chosen to burn bridges instead of restore relationships because I couldn’t find the strength to hope for change. These are losses in my life because I hate hope.
When hope feels too hard, I lean on a God who knows my heart. He has seen the circumstances that have broken it and shaped it. And he has asked me to hope anyway. I am learning to trust that he will help me deal with the disappointment when it comes instead of living a life of anticipating pain and rejecting hope. I wouldn’t say I am a pessimist, just a realist. But realism is understanding that the daffodils know when to come up better than I do. I have run from even a realistic hope based in knowing a God who loves me.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
It is a struggle for me to learn where I should place my hope. It isn’t in believing that God will spare me from trials or give me an easy life. My hope is that in whatever circumstances I experience, God will be with me. My sorrows will have purpose. I will see redemption for that pain, if not in this life, then in heaven. Hope in my comfort, my pleasure, my ability to handle life is misplaced hope. Hope in a God that loves me does not disappoint.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
-1 Corinthians 13:13