Thursday night (or I guess I should say Friday morning) my cat woke me up at 3:27am. This is, sadly, not that uncommon, as he’s a very opinionated fellow who often wakes up in the early early morning and decides that he would like more cat food, or that there’s something happening outside in which he just has to be involved. I crawled out of bed to do whatever I needed to do to get him to stop making noise, and then found upon coming back to bed that I couldn’t sleep.
I had been at a work event earlier in the evening listening to a lecture that stirred something in my soul. The lecturer spoke of sharing the “full story” of the gospel, of treating specific questions of doubt, pain, and fear in unbelievers without ever forgetting the big picture of what we are inviting them into. As a professional theologian he could paint this story in big bright colors with a single sentence, a sentence I realized that I was fundamentally uncomfortable with. I couldn’t do what he was doing, I was handicapped from inviting others into the full story of Jesus because I had forgotten how to hope. Or perhaps, more truthfully, I had decided quite a few years ago, that I no longer wanted to.
I struggle with a deep-seated anxiety. I have been in therapy, I’ve been medicated, I’ve met with pastors and priests, I’ve made lifestyle changes, I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed. And yet, the anxiety remains, sometimes latent, sometimes overwhelming me, most often in the middle of the night.
The thing is, I am not a typically anxious person. There is but one thing that can cause anxiety and fear to overwhelm me, that has reduced me a hand-wringing, nervous, uncomfortable mess. And that is the fear of the great unknown; not death itself, but the fact that there is no death, that we are destined to travel into a world that no man can tell us about, that will last forever, that is, in so many ways, entirely unlike our own. That we will someday live where the very constraints and definitions that run our life, the limitations of time, death, sin, and error, will no longer exist. We will live forever in a place that is brand new and hard to prepare for, despite the Bible’s descriptions and man’s anticipation.
The people I’ve confided this fear to often look at me in bewilderment. My psychiatrist thinks I’m truly crazy, my priest wonders if I’ve missed the point somewhere along the way, my parents tend to think I’m being spiritually oppressed. Perhaps they’re all right, but early Friday morning I wondered if it wasn’t much, much more simple than all that. I wondered if it was only my own unwillingness to leap into the biblical virtue of hoping for the things unseen.
I’ve never accepted disappointment well. When faced with disappointment I usually respond by assuming I should never have hoped in the first place, that I was wrong to think things could have been better, that God might have wanted more for me than I received. But if hope is a virtue, not just a virtue but one of the few things that remain—faith, hope and love—when all other things fade, then it seems like a good thing to practice; it seems that hoping, even when hope is disappointed, is worth while.
Maybe this is old news to all of you, but in my life hope was a forgotten virtue, something that sounded ok, but to which I just couldn’t seem to hang on. I know somewhere deep down that true hope put in Christ will not be disappointed. But, until I have the faith to feel it in my whole heart, I think I’m going to be practicing hope in the smaller things, even when I might be disappointed.
I figure I can get over disappointment, but I don’t think I could go much longer without embracing hope.