I hope spring gets here soon. I hope I don’t catch my grandson’s cold. I hope I get that new account. I hope the Cardinals win the World Series this year. I hope I have enough in my retirement account to get me through. I hope I’ve been a good dad to my sons.
Hope covers a lot of scenarios. But real hope? It’s hard to envision a life, even a day without it.
A friend told me a story one time about a fellow he was interviewing for a new job. As the man sat across the desk, my friend looked over his resume, and application. It was colorful to say the least, and not in a good way. There were among other things, felonies and prison time. Glancing up from the paperwork after a few moments, he looked across the desk; the applicant looked like a decent, middle-aged guy. It may have been against protocol, but my friend couldn’t help but ask: “Henry, you look like a pretty regular fellow to me. What happened? Why would you get involved in all this kind of trouble?”
Henry had been looking down at the floor, anxiously awaiting this question. He slowly raised his eyes and said to my friend, “Well sir, when you ain’t got hope, there ain’t no right or wrong.”
I’ve never experienced this kind of hopelessness. But, who doesn’t lose hope now and then? Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the circumstances of life; health issues, financial setbacks, difficult relationships, life’s disappointments? Nearly every week, I hear of someone whose job’s been downsized; a friend of a friend’s relative has cancer; someone’s adult child has substance abuse issues. Everyone has a difficulty of one sort or another in their lives.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.” Genesis 1:1
Those are the first words, the first sentence, the first thought, in the book of hope. …a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss… It was hopeless. And then God said, “Let there be light.” And for us Christians: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
So there is light in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it; but, there’s still darkness. We’re not in a formless wasteland, a darkened covered abyss, but it’s not paradise either. So how do we get through it? How do we navigate through to the patches of light in the darkness? How do we keep on our own particular path towards the light? Through hope. Hope is the light that keeps us from stumbling off the path, or maybe even plunging off a cliff; the cliff of there ain’t no right or wrong.
In his radio address in October 2013, Pope Francis “explained the true meaning of hope saying it’s much more than simple optimism for Christians, it is constant expectation, it’s a gift from the Holy Spirit, it’s a miracle of renewal that never lets us down.”
Hope was the theme of our annual men’s parish retreat this past November. It was an especially well timed experience for me. I almost didn’t even attend. If a friend hadn’t reached out with a personal invitation, I probably would’ve stayed home that weekend. I’m glad I went. I re-learned to find hope in the present moment. Hope is not in the distant past; it does see into the future, but it must be lived in the present. And it must be lived with, in harmony with God. At least it does with me.
At times, I used to complain about my life as a leaky boat, being tossed on the surging waves of life, while an uninterested Jesus watched from the shoreline. Where was my miracle? Where were my calm waters? I’m a good guy. I’m faithful. But, I’ve come to realize Jesus wasn’t on the shore at all; he was in my boat, going up and down, with waves crashing over our heads, the biting wind in our faces, and the hole in our boat not getting any smaller; but there he is, sitting beside me, with the assurance that we will weather this storm together.
That’s what gives me hope: the presence of Christ in the storms and squalls of my life. I have to live in the present, and I have to make time to be quiet with God. But, I feel the calming presence of God, of hope when I do. I have the expectation that his presence will ease my burden. And I have also discovered I can share this same …Jesus Hope with others, by sharing their load, riding out their storms with them, helping a little with the crosses they are bearing. In sharing my time with others, friends and strangers, I see a calm in their eyes, a joy in their spirit; I see a lessening of the burden they carry. In those moments, we are all, with Jesus, sharing the load, and it doesn’t seem nearly as heavy.