I shared last night with some people at one of our church gatherings about my current situation. As I talked it through with my colleague who would be interviewing me, the theme that surprisingly came through very clearly was this: I have hope.
What hope isn’t
I want to be very clear about what I don’t mean when I say I have hope. I don’t mean that I have a sure and certain hope that my situation will change, that my marriage will be restored. I would like that to happen, and the door is open for that to happen. But that’s not what my hope, ultimately, is in.
Nor am I swinging completely to the other extreme. I’m not just saying “I know that one day everything will be perfect, I’ll see Jesus face to face and all will be restored, and I have hope in that.” I am saying that, and I believe it will all my heart, but my hope is not just a statement that while in this life things may be awful they won’t be one day.
I have hope for my life, not just for my death.
Another thing I want to be clear about: the hope I have is not predominantly something I feel. Day to day at the minute, I don’t feel good. There are times every day when I feel despondent, low, confused, angry, sad, lost or all of the above. When I say I have hope I don’t mean I’m now looking into a future that appears bright and beautiful and full of promise. I don’t feel that way at all. At all.
Hope is not first and foremost a feeling. It is a choice and a state of mind.
I have hopeful thinking. Not wishful thinking, not pie-in-the-sky fantasy with no basis, not fooling myself, not optimistic self-deception. That’s not what I mean by hopeful thinking.
I mean that my hope is borne out of what I think, what I believe, what I am convinced to be true. I have convictions, and those convictions give me hope.
Here are some. I believe God transforms lives. I’ve seen it and I believe it. I believe God has purposes for people’s lives. I believe God has given me gifts and He intends for me to use them, and that when I do He works through them. I believe that a person who is in Christ is not defined by their situations, but in the status and standing God has given them.
I have believed these things for some time. I still believe them. What’s happening to me has massively changed my feelings, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed my beliefs.
Again, I don’t feel these things a lot. I don’t feel day to day that my life is showing signs of being transformed. It still feels like rubble. I don’t feel full of purpose. I feel lost. I don’t feel as though the gifts I have are worth much, or that the world would miss much if I didn’t do what I do. I don’t feel my status as a child of God trumps the messiness of my life.
I don’t feel these things. But I do believe them. I choose still to believe them.
My convictions give me hope. When I have no energy or strength of will, when I have no control over what I feel one minute to the next, I still have control over what I think, what I believe.
And in the last two months, I’ve chosen to live based not on what I feel, but what I think.
If I acted and lived based on my feelings, I would have done things I’d regret, said hurtful things I could never take back, hidden away in a dark room, never got out of bed some mornings, become very bitter.
Instead, I believe God has purposes for my work and my ministry, so I get up and go to work. I preach. I do things I know matter, even though I don’t feel it sometimes. If God has purposes for me, I can’t just quit, so I don’t. I believe God made me for relationships and friendships, so I choose to go to the pub, to see people who mean a lot to me, not just to shut myself away because it can feel safer.
I’ll be honest, a month ago I had to force myself do a lot of that. Not all of it, but some of it. What I’ve found, though, is that living out of the hope I have helps make the hope feel more real. I make myself invest in my work, and God has reminded me how much it means to me. I deliberately spend time with friends, and God reminds me how much I love them and how much I need them.
Hopeful thinking has turned to hopeful living. Hopeful living has helped build hope. I’m not perfect at this by any means and still have a long way to go.
But I do have hope.
And even in the darkest times, you can too.