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.

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Posted by Cate MacDonald

10 Comments

  1. Great post, and thank you for it.

    I’ve been musing on this for a while myself. Forgive me if anything I say will be trite or cliche, I’ll simply contribute to the conversation in whatever way I can.

    I was musing in 1 Peter 1:13 recently (“Therefore, prepare your mind for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed”). Being the nerdy pastor that I am, I pressed deeper into the exegesis of the text: greek grammar, background of 1 Peter, etc. Some fascinating stuff I found for my own hope in Christ. Though hope certainly remains, it struck me as odd that hope actually has an expiration date of a sort. In other words, there’s not much need to hope after Christ is “revealed,” making his invisible reign visible. Our hope shall then be consummated.

    It also struck me as unusual that the only indicative command in the Greek grammar was “set your hope fully.” The other commands in the sentence are participial and modify this command, as if our hoping is not euphoric but sober-minded and alert. That’s helpful for the brooding sort that I am.

    Then I began to wonder: where does the power to hope come from? I thought of Hebrews 12:3, classic verse that it is. For the joy set before Christ, he endured the cross. What was that joy? Pleasing his Father, to be certain. But also, reconciliation with his Bride, I’m imagining. Christ didn’t grit his teeth, nor really fear the unknown (which I’m imagining experiencing hell was for Him), but to see through to the other side.

    The power to hope for Christ was the joy on the other side of suffering. And so it is with us, I think. We, too, get a lofty vision of a wedding feast, of seeing Jesus face to face at the end of Revelation. We get to be the bride, and have the same joy set before us. The power to hope is only in a vision that will, undoubtedly, pale in comparison to the real thing. More than simply being told that I must hope, this makes me want to hope more, fears be damned.

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  2. Cate MacDonald July 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Thank you so much for your reflections David. I’ve read them twice this morning and just love what you’ve said. Your parishioners are blessed people.

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  3. Cate,

    Please don’t mistake this for careless self-promotion of my own blog, but after reading your post I feel compelled to direct you to my post on 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, which is famous for its image of “treasures in jars of clay” – http://sightregained.com/daily-devotion-7-7/.

    Paul responds to your comment – “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,” almost directly in the passage and speaks beautifully about the hope we find in living by faith in Christ. I encourage you to read through this not to get something from my own words, but from Paul’s.

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  4. Lovely post Cate. I love what you have to say and how you say it. Thank you for opening your life up to the public – it’s a gift.

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  5. Thank you very much for your post. I really, really like the last sentence.

    “I figure I can get over disappointment, but I don’t think I could go much longer without embracing hope”.

    I think I want to write this down somewhere, and make a plaque out of it or something. (If that’s okay with you).

    Just this past Saturday, I was in deep prayer with the Lord, and I felt the Holy Spirit say in my heart “There’s hope”. And it was exactly what I needed to hear at just that exact moment. Anyway, thanks again for this post. :D

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  6. I think this proves my reasoning about spiritual oppression. Our enemy does not want you to write. When you write you don’t just add more commentary to the Word you put it into hard practice. And people, like Miss Bible, are encouraged, and ironically, hopeful.

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    1. Hi Cate

      I think I have to agree with your parents comments about Spiritual oppression. Your hoping and willingness to share that hope bring encouragement to other people, as must be obvious from the other posts here. And encouragement is not what the enemy wants you to bring.

      I don’t think that it is any coincidence that in 1 Pet 3 we are exhorted to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. Our hope (in this instance you absolutely have to read that as “your hope” because it is clear whether you feel it or not) is unique in this world, it sets us apart and it opens others’ eyes to the fact that there is a reason for hope. It sounds to me that the oppression alluded to is seeking to obscure the hope that you have to limit the opportunities that will follow for you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

      So hope on. In the smaller things, even when you might be disappointed. It has a bigger impact than you might think. And always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. Because they will ask. And it is clear that you have a good answer.

      :-)

      Reply

  7. That was amazing. I really enjoy your writing and am extremely excited that you are writing more. Thanks for being so encouraging.

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    1. Thank you so much, Rob! Thank YOU for being encouraging.

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  8. Let me add my thanks for this to the others’. I’m catching up on my MereO reading and just came across it. Your thoughts are very well expressed and reflect my own feelings about hope in general. Thanks for the encouragement. I’m glad to give you mine. Keep writing.

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