“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
I wanted to write about Christmas. I wanted to write about struggling through this season. I wanted to write about hope at Christmastime. I wanted to confess what I used to think hope was and what I believe it to be no. So I went to a verse about being filled with hope. I went to Romans. I went to Romans 15:13. It’s filled with hope, and as a bonus, we get joy and peace, too. A good verse, right? So I did what I usually do when I read my Bible and I try to dig deeper. I want to understand more.
While digging deeper, I came across a study note that sent me to Romans 5:2-5.
“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I’m going to strip down my pride with you and be completely honest. That passage made me want to throw my Bible against the wall (…I didn’t). That passage makes me want to scream and cry and stop digging. Why? Because… I am suffering. I am facing trials, and honestly, so much of the days it feels like they are winning. So not only is Paul telling me that my suffering will produce hope, but he adds that we should rejoice in our sufferings. Really? I think that may just be asking a bit too much. My heart can’t rejoice for much of anything let alone the very reason it is shattered to pieces.
Maybe I am not there yet. Paul’s list does seem to have an order to follow: suffering – endurance – character- hope. Maybe I am still in the suffering phase which hasn’t produced endurance yet. And as I sit with my Bible before me, I have two options. I can close it and push aside the struggle, the pain, the questions. I can ignore it and drown it out with any other means I can. That, my friends, is the easier choice and many times that is what I choose. My second option is harder – so much harder. It means I face the pain, uncertainty, and questions. It means I keep His Word open before me and keep digging.
I press on.
Hope. The very word I have been struggling with this season. Suffering produces hope. What is hope? In the spirit of complete and total honesty, my mental picture of hope used to be something like this:
Someone so confident in heaven that after a loss of a loved one, they rejoice and are thankful for the time spent with their loved one but they are “ok” and happy because their loved one is in heaven. They continue on with their life here on earth knowing they will see their loved one again in heaven.
I cringed writing that just now – every word. Oh I am sorry. I am sorry for the judgments I unknowingly held against fellow brothers and sisters as they grieved. I didn’t know. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get the pain. I didn’t understand. Please forgive me.
Here I am in the midst of my grief, trying to grasp the concept of
hope and what I used to arrogantly believe. Where does that leave me now? There are two possibilities:
1. My mental picture was correct and I do not have hope because I am not that person I described
2. My mental picture was way off.
I am leaning toward the second possibility.
This is my current definition of hope:
Someone so confident in heaven.
That is it.
There are no conditions.
There are no right ways to live that out. That definition is true for me today. I do believe in heaven. I believe Gabriella is there. I believe I will see her there some day. That I have not questioned. So this feeling of “hope” that I think I should have is perhaps just a lie. Maybe “hope” isn’t a feeling at all. Maybe hope doesn’t look like happiness. Maybe hope is simply a belief.
My Bible defines hope as this:
“confident trust in what is not seen. Grounded in Christ’s resurrection, with patient expectation, believers hope in the promise of His return in glory.”
Maybe hope doesn’t look like anything at all. Maybe hope is still in my heart even when I feel hopeless. When the weight of the season’s greetings, the yuletide cheer, the merry and bright send me hiding under the covers, there is still hope.
So this Christmas if you don’t see me toasting eggnog, joining in carols, sporting ugly sweaters – if you don’t see me at all – I might be collapsed at the foot of our cardboard nativity scene. That may be all the Christmas I can handle. And my friends, maybe that is enough. Maybe this year that is exactly what hope looks like. Because when you strip down the elves, the wrapping paper, the gingerbread cookies, the hoopla, and the tradition, that is what Christmas is about. That baby in a manger is what Christmas is about.
This suffering, this pain in my heart, this unbearable sorrow is the very reason God sent His Son to earth. Immanuel – God with us. He came to be with us. He came to be with the lost. He came to be with the weary. He came to be with the brokenhearted. Why? To give us hope. A confident trust in the promise of His glory. He will do this through my suffering and through my pain.
I may not be rejoicing in my suffering. Maybe with time that will come. It may take months. It may take years.
My study notes made a careful clarification, and it is a good thing I did not give up and throw the Bible across the room. The endurance, the character, and the hope that comes from the suffering – that is by the work of the Holy Spirit. That isn’t on me. That isn’t something for me to do. That is something God will do.
That is good.
If it was left up to me, I would never be able to get there. That I know for sure – really, I can barely get out from under my covers. By the grace of God, He will help me through this. Why? “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…” (Romans 5:5). Nothing says love like Christmas, like a baby in a manger, like a father sending his son to earth to die for our sins, to pay our debt, so we can live with hope.