Archive for February, 2014

February 10, 2014

Though He giveth, or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
to preserve them pure and holy.

– “Children of the Heavenly Father”

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February 1, 2014

The One-Year Mark

Exactly 366 days ago I was in the San Francisco Bay Area recovering from my third surgery (in less than 4 years) for endometriosis. The 364 days between that day and this haven’t been a cakewalk – recovering from surgery was hard and long – but boy, it sure has been better than it was before. These days, I’m fully functional most of the time, and pain is the exception, rather than the rule. I can work, and go to church, and hang out with friends – it’s lovely!

But when you’ve become suddenly, incapacitatingly ill more than once in a few years, you start to feel a little paranoid. You start to think that the bottom could drop out any moment – which of course it could, for anyone. For me, this turned into a distrust and squelching of hope.

From where I’m sitting, it seems the most important thing I have learned in the last year is how to hope again, about major life stuff (not just that the new Doctor will be awesome, as nice as that would be). Hope is a profoundly Christian thing. I recently read Paul Miller’s A Praying Life (from which I posted several quotes in December), and found great encouragement in this area. He writes about the abundance of hope for the Christian:

Many of us believe in the Christian hope of ultimate redemption, but we breathe the cynical spirit of our age and miss the heart of God. This was brought home to me when I discovered from a widow that her husband’s philosophy of life went like this: ‘Expect nothing. Then if something good happens, be thankful.’ He had been a dear friend and godly counselor to me, but I was so surprised that I blurted out to his wife a confused mix of Romans 15:13 and Hebrews 13:20 – ‘Sue, that sure sounds so different from “May the God of hope, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”‘ Paul and the writer of Hebrews were bursting with the goodness of God. It spilled out of their hearts.”

I have done this try-to-expect-nothing-so-that-my-hopes-aren’t-dashed thing. I’m not very good at it, and then I feel like a sucker for thinking things might turn out differently. But that attitude makes me hard, and I don’t like what my heart is like when it gets hard. A hard heart is spoken of as a bad thing in Scripture (see Pharaoh, the Israel of Ezekiel’s day, the natural fallen state of man), something to be avoided (see the Penteteuch, the histories, the psalms), to be replaced with a heart that lives and beats, a “heart of flesh.” And of course, there’s that famous C.S. Lewis quote from The Four Loves, which I think says a lot about hope even though it’s about love. (I think hope is as much a heart thing as it is a will thing.)

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

That self-protective instinct, while not all bad, has to be held in check if we are going to run the risk of love, of hope. And you know what? Suppose my hopes do get dashed. This is not the worst thing that could happen, shockingly. After all, Christ “binds up the brokenhearted;” “a bruised reed he will not break.” He totally knows what to do with people who are a mess. 

Putting all this understanding into practice – incarnating it, if you will – can be hard work for me. My friend Sarah wrote a great piece about hoping for marriage. It does such a great job of connecting the dots – taking hope all the way from concept to life. 

I could not say all this if not for Jesus, if not for the Big Hope that will be realized. This strange time we live in, the already-but-not-yet, is marked by 1) restoration beginning, brokenness being healed, sinners being sanctified, God dwelling in the hearts of His people; and yet 2) brokenness  evil scoring points, saints who are still hot messes, God seeming to be far away sometimes. The kingdom has come, but not all the way. My understanding of the kind of days we inhabit informs – even empowers – my hope.

I mean, let’s face it – if ALL my hope is invested in things I don’t get, or that don’t satisfy me like I thought they would when I do get them, that makes for a sad, sad story. But because of the Gospel, I know – KNOW – that my story ends like The Taming of the Shrew, not Romeo and Juliet. History, it turns out, is a comedy! There is an ultimate “happy ending” for everyone who is united with Christ. That ending won’t happen until Jesus returns and makes all things fully, really new – and the ending turns out to be a new beginning.

This frees us, friends, to hope, because our joy and happiness and prosperity and health and wisdom and riches and relationships and holiness are all ultimately guaranteed – our fulfillment is a sure thing. We can love people who treat us poorly, or who are throwing up on us at 2 am, or who drive us nuts. We can hope to see someone change who seems completely set in her ways, or that our sickness will be cured or treated effectively, or for a godly spouse. Because we have an unshakeable foundation, we can hope without putting our whole selves into the hope.

Hope itself is not the goal. The goal is glory. The goal is being with Christ, face-to-face. The goal is the new heavens and the new earth. The goal is fully living as a child of the King of the universe, forever. One day, as that awesome hymn reminds us, “hope shall change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise.” We’ll get to put hope on the shelf. But until then, we need its pointing us toward that day, when

…the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the LORD, we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’ (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Friends, I am counting on it. In hope.