How fragile is your hope? The obvious followup is, how strong is your fear?
I want to calculate in writing the way that hope is eclipsed by circumstance, internal cues (doubts, anxiety, perceived or real needs), and so many other factors. The way to live is to be free from disappointment, where your expectations are always the same as they rest on something or someone that never changes. Some will recommend lower expectations. I have personally had many a mentor, coach, peer, pastor, or others say in gentle or other terms, “lower your expectations.” That is definitely an option, and I do think that many people have found balance and contentment in that worldview.
For me, when I put my hope into politics, I am continually disappointed. The most powerful example I can think of was Obama’s election. I had already voted a bunch of times, been somewhat bored by the whole process, but never had the combination of personal, emotional investment mixed with 24/7 internet coverage of every development of the election. I remember listening to the song and later remix of “Yes we can” via YouTube a bunch of times and really, in the deepest sense, believing in what I was hearing. Then, on this side of that election, I am disappointed to the point of betrayal. My hope for freedom for the oppressed, an end or reduction of war, an end to corruption, an end to torture… We all know those things didn’t happen. The rationalization is, it was foolish to ever expect those things from any presidential candidate. There are conspiracy theories that shift the blame to the security state, the military industrial complex, or the web of international treaties that require American power projection into all parts of the world. What was Obama really ever going to do? It still crushed my hope, is my point. My hope in this political system is effectively dead. In place of my hope is a monstrous fear that each forthcoming candidate will be worse.
When I think about my career, I enter into a similar conversation. Even at the peak of fulfillment, during mountaintop moments in my vocational / professional life, I have seen a similar void. I remember being at an event where we raised six figures for the first time, having raised the emotions and energy of hundreds of stakeholders in our community. And being there, there was a deep sense of, “is this it?” For my organization, and for me, it was winning the Super Bowl. There would be no higher mountain to climb in that role. The victory was a hollow one. I was standing on that figurative mountain, looking around at the mountain range. I looked down on some mountains, looked up at others, but they all looked essentially the same. Was I going to go back down and start over again? For what? People do that, some do it on a daily or hourly cycle. They find victories in incremental or quarterly or specific numerical goals. Others are measured in different ways – those in ministry are fortunate to have the opportunity to measure their “wins” in a different way. My ministry, not because of my leadership, is obsessed with numbers. I believe we would give up our theological tenets before we gave up on numbers. They are that important. Putting hope in the wrong thing will kill those who do. Hope is the lifeblood of the soul. Without it, without a vision for great hopes and dreams, people die.
What if there was hope in something permanent? And something invincible? What if there was hope for something that was more powerful than what anyone can do to me? I don’t know what it is about me, but I have to look at it from the flat site, from the negative side. What horrible, holocaustal thing could happen to take away my hope? I feel like my hope is constantly tested, and I am continually tested both by the goodness that I perceive in my circumstance and the defeats, it seems that everything is trying to pull me into a temporal, easy-to-find hope. I invite you to look past those things with me. Your job will never fulfill you. It just won’t. If you’re hoping that it will, you’ll die inside. Your children won’t fulfill you. The worst pain in my life has come from the disappointment I have felt by the offense of others, or by my offending them, or by their attempts to love me and failing so spectacularly. Hope is a sacred, internal language. To focus your soul on something is to give that thing, person, idea, belief unimaginable power over you. Everyone who put their hope in Obama gave that man power, far beyond the political sense – I’m not talking about voting. That kind of power isn’t meant for humans, and even less for material possessions, or titles, or roles.
What if hope in God was the only way to experience peace? and joy… and love, patience, goodness. I know it’s the only way, I just rarely ever practice it! I confess that I so often hope for other things, my temptation hits me like a machine gun, all day, every day. My world is constantly telling me to hope in other things. God won’t disappoint your hopes. That’s just never happened. Hope in something that can’t be taken away, in a person who will never abandon you. If you lose your job, are cheated on, tortured, killed, if you lose everything, your hope can remain for a very special reason. God, the real God, is bigger and more powerful and transcends any bullet, vote, material possession, or job title. Your hope can’t be killed, because God has defeated death itself. What I love about this hope is, it is so easy in the midst of that God-focus to see where others put their focus. You can see the frailty of striving and self-improvement and the smell of insecurity that rises off of people (I am no better, don’t get me wrong). You can see so clearly the way that people carry their hopes, and how focused they are on protecting the thing that is killing them. It is so obvious when someone has hoped in the wrong thing, when their hope has failed them, or when it is about to fail them, and how hard people fight to protect that hope. But when you hope in the real thing, when your hope is in God, nothing can touch you. You don’t flinch when you’re insulted, or assaulted, or abused, or taken advantage of, or ignored. When you are in God, your hope won’t be disappointed, because God doesn’t disappoint.