What do you hope for? Recently, the answer to this question for a lot of us goes something like “I just want to feel normal again.” But, unfortunately, the pandemic interrupted life as we knew it and then hung around long enough to make us wonder whether “normal” is even a possibility for the future.
When hope is accompanied by action, in this case, getting vaccinated and taking recommended precautions, normal is on the near horizon. Hope that involves cooperation among a large number of people can seem more like unwarranted optimism. But we can still hope.
In her book, You Are Enough, Danielle Bean shares a story about a time in her life when she was pregnant with their 4th child, and feeling like normal for her seemed elusive. For Danielle, normal meant more reliable and convenient transportation. All she wanted was a minivan to replace their aging and not-so-reliable station wagon. Don’t normal families have a minivan? 1
So Danielle did what many of us do when we want something we don’t have but see little chance of our wish come true. We pray.
Admitting that her prayer was more edgy than usual and definitely more bratty, Danielle took her petition to God. All the while realizing that a minivan, given their constrained budget, would be impossible. She was asking for a divine miracle of convenience, realizing that God indeed saw through her petty whining and complaining. After all, didn’t Jesus once say something about not worrying about trivial things like food and clothes?
To be more precise, Jesus said something along the lines of “Do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings” (Matthew 6:34). And elsewhere, Jesus encourages us to ask for the things our heart desires. I’m not so sure that there is a right or wrong when it comes to our wants, although admittedly, my longing for an F250 that isn’t rusted out may be affecting my judgment.
Our superwoman story for this week is about a woman who wanted what Danielle already had in abundance. Hannah wanted children, and she also took her request to God. In fact, when the Priest Eli confronts Hannah at the Temple, he thinks she might have come to church a bit high.
I have been praying, pouring out my troubles to the Lord.
1 Samuel 1:15
Hannah assures the priest that she was simply distressed over her situation and says to Eli, “I have been praying, pouring out my troubles to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15).
Hannah’s situation was worsened by the constant torment of an adversary that flaunted her children in front of Hannah. And also took every advantage to build herself up by tearing Hannah down. So, admittedly, instead of feeling happy that God blessed Peninnah with children, Hannah was jealous.
“How often do we feel belittled by the blessings God gives to others, but not to us?” Danielle writes. So Danielle realizes as her husband reminds her that normal isn’t about owning a minivan. But even if there are more important things than minivans, Danielle’s hope was motivated by more than jealousy.
Hannah does what a lot of us do when confronted with need. She bargains with God. Hannah’s prayer concludes with, “Give me a son, and I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you. I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline” (1 Samuel 1:11 MSG).
An article I found on HopeGrows.net offers that “To have hope is to want an outcome that makes your life better in some way.” The article adds that hope is different from optimism because everyone hopes for something, including the most pessimistic among us. 2
Hope is more than optimism because hope also motivates us to anticipate our hopes coming true. Hope makes it more likely that the steps needed to realize our hope takes place. We meet God part of the way by taking the first step towards what we hope for, followed by another step, and so on.
Sometimes as we move towards that which we hoped for, our desires change. We discover new ideas or realize that what we hoped for is no longer what we want. When this happens, we gain the insight that God really does know what’s best for us.
A study conducted by the American Psychology Association found that the majority of persons who succeeded later in life despite growing up in poverty had hope in common. This insight is summed up by Dr. Valerie Maholmes, who said that hope involves “planning and motivation and determination” to get what one hopes for. Dr. Judith Rich writes that “Hope is a match in a dark tunnel, a moment of light, just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out.” 2
What do you hope for? Our church building sits in a neighborhood under siege by crime, violence, and poverty. Instead of minivans and trucks, our most profound hopes are for a transformed city. Unfortunately, like eradicating the COVID virus, seeing this hope come true requires cooperation. The hopeful truth is that together we can move our community from its present state of scarcity to abundance.
This has been my hope since coming to Flint over ten years ago. Admittedly, I’m an optimist, and I’ve learned that I tend to dream bigger than the facts support. But I also am blessed to see divine miracles happening every day. And I believe that God wants abundance for the people of Flint. But more of us have to want this for our community as well.
This past week Asbury received a “Key to the City” from Mayor Neeley along with ten other faith communities. I realize that the key that came sealed in a frame doesn’t really open a locked door. It’s just a symbol of gratitude for our efforts.
But what if the key is more than a symbol of gratitude? What if this key is also a sign of optimism from God? What if God recognizes that there is so much justifiable hopelessness in our midst that those of us who still hold onto hope, but find it slipping away, need a divine sign that God wants what we want?
While it may seem like the match we have is too wet to strike a flame, hope can find light in other places. And while the dark tunnel that contains us may seem endless, hope recognizes that there is always light to be found, even when we aren’t experiencing it at the time.
Most of all, out of hope comes the next step. And each step can be followed by yet another. So what do you hope for? What is your next step?
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1 Much of the content of this series is based on the book: Danielle Bean. You are Enough: What Women of the Bible Teach You about Your Mission and Worth. West Chester, PA: Ascension Publishing, 2018.
2 “Why Is Hope So Important?” © HopeGrows.net, 2021.