Hope Floats

What do these people all have in common:

A woman, who has been battling various types of cancer and illness since she was 19, is told she has yet another “suspicious” cyst.

What should have been a joyous time of wedding anticipation and planning has instead been fraught with tension and heartache.

A young man making his way in the world with his new wife is struggling to break the suffocating dysfunction of his family.

Just as the eldest daughter is going off to college, the family’s demons can no longer be squashed down.

Adult children are laying their father’s ashes to rest beside their mother with a final celebration of their father’s life.

Life has a way of showing up. In a sense, the circumstances don’t really matter. It could be losing a job or moving to a new area. It might be celebrating the birth of a child or completing a degree program. Whatever it is, something is needed to help navigate the ups and downs of life.

Most people, whether they think about it or not, do choose something to help them cope with life. Sadly, many choose destructive behaviors and elements. Drugs and alcohol are often used to either numb someone from facing the unpleasant or as an enhancement to celebrate. Eating disorders, violence, immersing yourself in activities as a means of avoiding, flitting from one relationship to another, creating black-and-white-absolute constructs by which you order your worldview and life. Again, it may not always something extreme, but it is something that becomes a personal default when things get tough or change or pain gets too close for comfort.

You’re probably waiting for me to say God is the something, or someone, we all need to help us navigate life’s journey. Some of you are certain I should be saying Jesus Christ and his saving grace is what we all need. Well I, for one, don’t think we can reduce God or Jesus-as-my-savior as the formulaic answer to all of life’s tribulations and woes.

There is something else that is as basic to life and essential to our survival as water is to fish and air is to planes. We need hope, even if it’s just a spark, to keep on keeping on. Hope encourages us to hang on when we feel like letting go. Hope sustains us when we feel like we’re out of options. Hope buoys us when we feel like we’re being swallowed up in the turbulent waters.

The dictionary defines hope as:

a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Unfortunately, hope that is merely wishful thinking does nothing for us. If hope is that vital to our existence, it must offer more that shallow platitudes.

The hope I’m thinking about is solid, stable, and sure, even if it is unseen and requires an element of trust. While many of us are stubborn individualists, most of us have also had few safe and supportive people who have walked with us through troubling times. When we had run out of energy or hope, they were steadfast with their love and care. They carried us until we were strong enough walk on our own again. They continued to pray when we could no longer pray ourselves. They maintained the hope for us until we could hope again ourselves.

The people of Israel were devastated when their temple was destroyed. The temple was central to their spiritual life and represented generations of God’s faithfulness as a people called and set apart for God’s special purpose. Not only was their temple decimated, but survivors were taken away into captivity – again – by the conquering empire. The biblical book of Lamentations revisits Israel’s most painful memory by describing in detail the causes and effects of Jerusalem’s fall in 587 BCE.

Buried in chapter 3 are two simple verses:

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope: 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end; 
they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness. 

The poet is describing hope. Hope is living in this moment on my journey in confident expectation that God is up ahead on my pathway, not just waiting for me to reach God, but moving towards me. I’m not on this path alone, but I am accompanied through each and every struggle in this journey by the God who hears each voice crying in the wilderness and weeps with those who weep.

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