Come, Let Us Reason Together: Hope Deferred
One of my worst fears in life is throwing up. I know, after 3 pregnancies, you’d think I would get over it. But, nope! It still frightens me.
Which leads me to an embarrassing story of when I cursed in front of my Father-in-law. During college, I joined my fiancé and his family on vacation. I’ve never been nervous to fly, but with a motion-sensitive stomach, I’ve just always been extremely nervous that I would throw up on an airplane. (You read that right: dying in a plane crash isn’t scary to me, but throwing up while trapped in a metal bird gliding through the sky makes me want to melt for fear!) We hit the first unexpected, major bump of turbulence, and like a sailor on the high seas, I grabbed the armrests and raspy-whispered a curse word under my breath. (Real saintly, huh? God’s still working on me…) I was both terrified that I would throw up in front of my future in-laws and mortified that my Father-in-law heard me swear. And trust me, the only thing worse than being terrified is being mortified while also being terrified. My Father-in-law laughed, and still reminds me of this story every time we fly. (Sigh...)
Speaking of traveling, it is true that the most difficult journey is less than 18 inches – the distance between our head and our heart – and that looooong 18 inches of struggle can be clearly seen in our journey with hope.
We know that God offers unlimited hope in the fullness of who He is. We know this in our heads. But, what do we do when our struggles cause our hearts to question what we say we know in our minds?
It is not that we do not know or believe in the God of hope. Nor does disappointment always indicate that our desires are for the “wrong” things. More than often, our hopelessness is the result of our lack of understanding about what hope really is, the disorientation that occurs when hope is deferred, and our inability to clearly navigate through those darker emotional waters. I hope this post helps along the journey.
Herein lies the riskiness of hope. The Bible tells us “Faith is the confidence of what we hope for, and the assurance of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). In other words, Faith=Assurance and Hope=what we do not see. By design, true hope is rooted in what we cannot see. It’s one thing to put all our eggs in one basket…it’s another thing entirely to put all our eggs into an invisible basket. Yet, that is what we are doing when we rely on an invisible God. This is faith. Faith is given to us, so that we may have knowledge of a God that cannot be seen. Hope is the comfort received knowing that this gift of faith connects us to a God who is able, willing, loving, kind, forgiving, sovereign, yet unseen. Hope says, “My God will hold on to me because my faith tells me who He is.”
Faith informs our hope.
This is where things get confusing. All of Creation (including humans) innately search for comfort. In fact, the whole earth groans to be comforted as it was in the Beginning (Romans 8:22). We, along with all of God’s created things, are predisposed to looking for our source of comfort – when all things will be made right, whole, and untarnished. We long for justice and healing and restoration – a great return to our true Home. Our faith, informed by the revelation of God's Truth in His Word, tells us that all of these things are found only in the Creator God. Our hope tells us that He can and will bring about all of these things that we yearn for but cannot see yet. When our hope seems to be deferred for longer than we can bear, “the heart grows sick” (Psalm 13:12). Faith and hope are so intertwined, that when hope is lashed, faith often feels the bruises.
Bolstering our Faith
When the things we have desired, worked for, expected, or felt called to pursue crashes, it can be a disorienting experience. We see this concept played out in our everyday lives: the reason riding in cars and airplanes can make us queasy is because our eyes see one thing, while our bodies are experiencing something different. Likewise, we experience a great deal of friction in our own hearts when we are experiencing disappointment while our faith says something different. There is a great tension between the two things we are holding onto. The unexpectedness of unfulfilled desires is indeed frightening, painful, burdensome, and disorienting. In one word: disappointing…sometimes to the point of disheartening.
Part of our hesitancy to fully grasp hope is not only is it an unseen expectation, but disheartening feelings that arise from hopes that seem crushed can disorient the connection between our heart and our head –the hurt we feel and the faith we know.
Being the parent to two children with special needs, I feel as if I am continually learning “to kiss the wave that throws me upon the Rock of Ages.” (Charles Spurgeon) “Hope deferred” is one such wave that seems to continually thrash against my heart. I've prayed for their healing, their progress, their success, and my sanity for their entire lives. Some prayers were answered in the way I thought they would, others were answered differently than I expected, some prayers have remained unanswered to this day. "Hope deferred" faces me every day in a very real way, but in the unanswered prayers, I have experienced hope.
We all know the sting of disappointment and desire. If we desire it, then we do not yet have it, and the waiting can truly be a long suffering. Yet, in the waiting, God can and does reveal life-giving, faith bolstering truths out of our seasons of disappointment. For me, the process has taken on a certain pattern of questions that seem to repeat during these darker seasons, when my faith feels more bruised than usual:
What am I specifically feeling, and why?
Have I taken the time to answer God’s invitation to “come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) about what is truly in my heart? Have I taken the time to search my own motives, conscience, thinking, and beliefs surrounding this issue?
Is God withholding good from me, or I am holding on to something that God has not deemed as good for me? (Hint hint: the answer to that first question is always “no”. See Psalm 84:11)
Have I forfeited my contentment in God alone for less eternal treasures, regardless of whether those treasures are considered “good”, “right”, or “logical”?
Is my hope properly informed by my faith, and is my faith founded on the truth of God’s Word?
Am I tethering myself to the God my faith proclaims, or have I secured my hope in something less than the true God?
What is it that God is revealing to me about who He is in this disappointment?
After all of this, how should I pray?
This isn’t a process that comes easily or is worked through quickly. But, for me, it has been worth it every time, because God’s Word tells my faith: “You will find me when you seek me with ALL of your heart” (Jer. 29:13). My faith informs my hope that I can bring ALL of my heart, including (and perhaps especially) my feelings of disorientation, grief, suffering and disappointment. He invites me to “reason together” with Him – He wants me to come to Him instead of facing hopelessness or disappointment alone. I can bring it ALL to God, and although I may not gain answers that address my specific hopes deferred, my faith says, I will gain Jesus. My experiences confirm that I find Him when I seek Him with all of my heart.
With or without my specific desires fulfilled in the way I was expecting, I find the fulfillment of hope in who God is and His love for me. My soul is satisfied in Christ, and not in my circumstances. My God becomes my hope, and the journey between my head and my heart has once again been traversed for my good and God’s glory. All because God has used my season of disappointment to show me Himself. I can once again say, “O Lord, You alone are my hope” (Psalm 71:5).