Hey everyone! I (Beth) am so excited to welcome my dear friend, Casey Lewis to the blog today. Casey and I met in grad school and she has become one of my closest friends. She’s a Marriage and Family therapist in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Welcome, Casey.
This Advent season is really my first. I’ve heard of Advent throughout my life and been part of congregations where we lit the candles each week. But this season is the first in which I’ve treated Advent as it’s own season in my life. I’ve been intentional about participating in a time of waiting for the coming Jesus and in remembering what that felt like for the world waiting for the Messiah.
It is widely understood that there was a 400 year gap between Malachi and the birth of Christ. For four hundred years, God was silent. They did not have the Holy Spirit. They had only the promise of the Messiah, the one who was to come and set things right. Generations of people did not experience the parting of seas, manna provision, or burning bushes. Yet, they held onto the hope of the promised one.
I’ve been thinking about hope a lot this year. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I see the power of it. I walk with clients through painful, dark times. I have witnessed, first-hand, the strength that comes with a glimmer of hope. Sometimes, the hope that depression has an end, that grief will subside, that circumstances will change, is the very thing that pulls us through those dark times.
In my personal life, I have had my own experiences with hope this year. As a matter of fact, hope has been kicking my ass for almost exactly one year. My husband and I have been in a season of waiting, hoping, being disappointed, grieving and then starting the whole thing over again. And so I have learned some things about hope.
Hope is vulnerable. It is always a risk. Hope implies the possibility of disappointment. If it were a sure thing, it would not be hope. And so it requires a great deal of courage to be willing to hope.
Hope cannot be managed. We tell ourselves to manage expectations and so we manage hope. “I’m not going to get my hopes up about this!” Sound familiar? However, aren’t we still disappointed on the other side of it? When we try to manage hope, we’re really just trying to ignore that it’s there. If it wasn’t there, there’d be nothing to manage. The fallout of this is that, when things don’t work out, we are either blindsided by the disappointment that we feel or we ignore that, too, since it’s not supposed to be there. And when we ignore what we feel, it doesn’t go away, we just save it for later. And as all those saved up emotions build, they begin to leak out in inconvenient ways. Richard Rohr says that pain that is not transformed will be transmitted. So, if we are not giving ourselves the space to work through the pain of disappointment, it just gets spent on loved ones or on ourselves. We snap at family members or eat or drink too much. So all that work to try to manage hope often does more harm than good.
Hope is illogical. I want to be very careful to emphasize here that this does not mean that it is wrong. It means that it does not make sense from a logical standpoint. Some of you thinkers out there are going to have a hard time with this one. I think hope is one of the beautiful ways that God designed us to remind us of the value of our emotions. It doesn’t have to make sense. Because it does not rely on logic, that is not where its power lies. So, even with the odds stacked against it, hope can still be present.
As I mentioned earlier, hope is powerful. It can sustain us and hold us up. Research shows that when goals seem within reach, it spurs us on. A runner who expects the finish line to be around the corner will keep up their pace, or even increase it. That is the power of hope. I will not be in this place forever. Change is coming. Just a little further now.
I have had one year of walking through hope and disappoint in an intense way. Can you imagine generations of people walking through that? They lived in captivity and oppression, waiting for things to be set right. And we are still waiting. Our Messiah came and because of that, we have right relationship with God and the comfort and direction of the Holy Spirit. But He is coming again and will make all things new. And so we wait and we hope.
This Advent season, I am pressing into hope. Hope in a big picture way, that someday things will be set right. But I am also taking the risk of being willing to hope in the “smaller picture” things. Hope that longings will be fulfilled, that change will come. It is scary, but it is sustaining and it feels right and sacred.
What about you? Where are you holding hope? Where have you been trying to manage it? Can you press into hope a little more somewhere? It is scary, but it is worth it. And I don’t say that lightly. As someone who has hoped and been disappointed this year, it costs me something to say that it was worth it. But when I look back on this year, I feel like I have been brave and strong and it was worth it.