What I’m Learning About Hope

“I hope you have a great day.”

“I hope no one gets sick.”

“I hope tomorrow goes really well.”

Have you ever said anything like that?

I have. In fact, I use the word ‘hope’ in those sorts of sentences every day. Most of the time I don’t even think about it. It’s just something to say when I either do or don’t want something to happen.

If a friend is having a bad day, I might tell her that I hope she’ll feel better soon, or that I hope her day starts looking up. If someone is sick, I might say that I hope they recover quickly, or that the illness doesn’t get worse. If someone is looking for a job, or a house, or a significant other, I might say that I hope they find the right one for them.

In those cases, ‘hope’ is often a sort of filler word. Something we just say when we don’t know how else to word it. And there’s nothing really wrong with using it that way.

As long as we realize that there’s a different kind of hope too.

In the midst of some painful and troubling trials lately, I caught myself thinking to myself: “I hope this works out…I hope I’m able to find the right words…I hope I don’t accidentally make things worse…” And then it hit me – I wasn’t truly thinking about what those words meant.

Most of the time, when I say, “I hope…”, it’s just wishful thinking. Instead of stopping to think about what I really mean, I default to what’s become second-nature to say in tough situations, or when I’m trying to assure someone I want the best for them.

When I say, “I hope,” I’m actually saying, “I wish,” or “I want”.

But hope means so much more than fond wishes and luck. True hope – biblical hope – means faith. It means assurance and peace. It means that no matter what happens, we can rest secure in the knowledge that whatever happens is for a purpose.

True hope is believing the promises of God in every aspect of our lives.

Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with using ‘I hope’ to communicate our fondness or longings to someone, far too often I use it as a substitute for prayer. Instead of telling someone that I’m praying for them (and then actually praying for them!), or using those pangs of worry or concern as reminders to go straight to God, I dwell on my ‘hopes’ and wishes.

And when my mind is so full of those things, there’s no room there for trust. For faith.

For true hope.

That realization the other day was like a slap of cold water.

What was I doing? How was wishful thinking supposed to help, or be comforting to those hurting? How was that going to give me any peace, or show me the right words to say? Hope in the context I was giving it was about me and what I thought was best. Hope like the Bible describes it is about God and what He knows is best.

When we choose to have hope – true hope – then we’re choosing to believe that God will come through. That some day all His promises will be fulfilled, and that He is fulfilling some of them right now. For example, His promise to work everything out for our good.

When bad things happen, what is your first reaction? To cry? To hide? To get angry, or vent to the nearest person? Perhaps your tendency is to grow quieter and quieter – even ignoring God because you just can’t think of what to say to Him. You feel betrayed. You feel hopeless.

Last year tested my faith in a way I’d never experienced before. Oh, there have been hard times before. Times that I thought would break me. Trials I thought I’d never recover from. Losses that still tear at my heart every day. But the sudden uncertainty and stripping of everything that was normal to me last year was entirely unexpected and an intense test.

Looking back to shortly before everything burst out, I see how God was preparing me. I’d felt especially moved to spend extra time in His presence, enjoying quiet prayer and reflection time with Him every morning, and soaking up Bible study after Bible study. I memorized dozens of Scripture verses, and with each one that I tucked in my heart, I noticed myself reacting to situations differently than I normally would. Instead of crying, venting, or sulking, it was like a different person was reacting for me. I felt peace.

At the time, I figured I was preparing myself for graduation, and what my life might look like after highschool. Turns out that I was – only it hasn’t looked anything like I expected it would. And in addition, there have been so many other things that God prepared me for.

Before, I’ve talked1 about the way God held me close during the first events of the pandemic. He’s continued to do just that. Thinking about all the ways that He’s remained close and constant is overwhelming.

I’ve never liked change. Variety, sure. I love new experiences, new people, new places, and trying new hobbies. But at the end of the day, or week, or month, I want things to go back to the way I’ve always known them. Being with the people I’ve loved since childhood, resting in the same home I’ve always known, and trusting that I can count on the ways things have always been.

Last year, change abounded. And not just fleeting change. Some are changes that have lasted until today, and will likely last a long time more. Some are changes that will affect the rest of my time on Earth. The only thing that didn’t change – and I know will never change – is God, and the way that He cares. For me. For my family and friends. For every single person on the planet.

Because I spent so much time getting to know Him before all the hardships started, I was able to trust Him through them. Most of the time, in a way that I didn’t recognize about myself, I was able to respond with faith, even in situations that would have crippled me before. And because I’ve seen how He’s remained and cared for me in every instance since, I can continue to trust Him with the future. I can continue to have faith.

I can continue to hope.

Hope is looking to the future and choosing to trust it to God – even if that future looks scary and uncertain. Hope is deciding to bring our questions, our anxieties, and our frustrations straight to God – instead of holding them in and allowing them to fester. Instead of fooling ourselves into believing that we can handle them ourselves. That God doesn’t care.

He does care. Deeply. Always. More than we can ever imagine.

Over and over again in Scripture, we read God’s promises to the Israelites…to His disciples…straight to us. Promises to remain with us. Promises to care for us, to teach us, to love us, and to prepare a place for us in eternity with Him. Promises to never let the darkness of this world prevail in the end.

That’s hope.

It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not an empty platitude. It’s not some kind of fuzzy feeling.

It’s the unceasing belief that God will keep His promises, and that no matter what happens, the hurts, the darkness, the sufferings, and the injustice will not remain. They’re not the end. In the grand scheme of eternity, they’re not even a significant amount of time. They certainly feel like it now, but some day we’ll look back and see with fresh perspective how God’s used these trials and pains for incredible good.

As we move into the Easter season, what better time to dwell on the hope God’s given us? The darkest day known to humanity gave way to the brightest future we could ever imagine. Light will come from these dark days too. After all, the same God that rose from the dead is the same God that’s standing at at your side right now, walking with you through every moment of your life.

The war is already won. We just have to trust Him through the final battles.

I know I’m not going to stop using, ‘I hope,’ in my every day conversation. But from now on, I’m using it as a reminder to refocus my heart and mind on the One that is my true hope. Those words are a reminder for me to pray. To trust. And most of all, to continue to believe that the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises is coming.

I hope it’s soon.

May the God of hope fill you
with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13 NIV)

1. I talked about what God taught me about trust during 2020 here.

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