By Eugenie Daniels
Some people brush the surface of biblical concepts like faith, forgiveness, and blessing but never plumb the depths. Before they have experienced God, they spurn deeper knowledge and miss the path to real life.
Take hope for example. On the surface hope can seem foolish. Some walk away before they understand and experience it. They don’t realize that God is able to “make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15).
During their conquest of the promised land the Israelites lost a battle because of one man’s sin. Achan, the Israelite who committed the sin, and his entire family were stoned and burned in the Valley of Achor. It was a place of sin, evil, and hopelessness. But Hosea said that God would make it a door of hope. Only experience with God can show us what hope is.
Wishing Not Hoping
My own experience with hope began in a family where alcoholism and lack of money affected everything. We knew love, but it was distorted. The abuse of alcohol led to loud fights that I listened to while cowering in my bed. I was anxious and uneasy. However, my grandmother gave me the gift of prayer, so I prayed with great hope that God would make things like they were supposed to be. I wanted him to make us into one of those laughing, hugging TV families. The only room I gave God to work was to give me what I wanted. This is not Christian hope, but wishful thinking. Like Job, I cried, “Oh . . . that God would grant what I hope for” (Job 6:8). And with Job, I went without an answer.
I prayed harder during my teenage years. Drinking at home became drinking in public. Shame was added to the other pain. My mother was often reduced to tears and frozen silences. People would call and ask her to pick up my father. Drinking that had been a family secret was now a public embarrassment. However, periodically my parents would reconcile and I would be convinced that this time my prayer had been answered. Foolishly, I never seemed to learn as drunkenness routinely reemerged with bitter tears and fights.
My hope was still wishful thinking. True hope goes beyond wanting God to change things according to our preferences. The Israelites, when they groaned in Egypt, did not tell God what they wanted him to do. “The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering”’ (Exodus 3:7). God heard their cries, but they did not tell him they wanted to be brought into a promised land. That was God’s plan.
My thinking was still wishful thinking. I wanted what I wanted. Since I didn’t get what I asked for, I wanted to say with Job, “What strength do I have that I should still hope? What prospects that I should be patient?” (Job 6:11). Wishful thinking disguised as hope is tempted to turn its back on God.
Cast Down, But Not Destroyed
I moved into a more mature faith as a young adult. I accepted that the broken condition of my family might never be mended. I lived with the personal problems and dysfunctions that an alcoholic family had created in me. I was shy and had few friends. Books were my friends. God led me to books and Scriptures that helped me understand what was going on in my life so that I could begin to heal. I realized that God was my real Father and how much he loved and cared for me. “But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish” (Psalm 9:18). Though the situation did not change, my thoughts and feelings were changing. If I looked closely, I could see an answer to my years of prayer beginning to form. Not the answer I wanted, but God’s answer. I saw that hope could come in unexpected ways.
Hope in God
Things went on this way for many years. In later life, my father had a heart attack and stopped drinking, but by then my parents’ relationship was cold and conflicted. Even without drinking, we did not become a laughing, hugging TV family. Where was hope?
My father died of cancer in his mid-seventies. He spent his last three months in a nursing home. All past problems were put aside by love, as we stayed with him alone, or occasionally in pairs, throughout the day. We arranged our schedules around work and sleep. We kept him company, fed him, and took care of other needs when necessary.
One day, as we were sitting together, Dad put his hand on my head. “I haven’t touched you girls in a long time,” he said. It was true. Almost a whole lifetime of no hugs, kisses, or even pats on the shoulder. He continued to say how sorry he was and how much he loved us. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). How true those words were in my life that day. In those few moments we were reconciled and healing took place. He asked me to take care of my mother. After that his medication affected his ability to communicate and a few weeks later he died.
This was our hope. When we are separate from Christ, we are “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Some parts of our lives that are broken may stay that way. But when we are in Christ, our hope is that someday, even after death, God will redeem the broken and dark parts. Instead of looking like piles of rubbish, our lives will look like a beautiful patchwork quilt. There will be dark times that show as dark colors, but they will have been redeemed and worked into the pattern of the quilt so that the whole quilt, light and dark colors, becomes a thing of beauty.
Hope is not having things the way we wish they were. Instead we try to “be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). We do not turn our backs on God. We continue our journey with him through good times and bad, crying out when we need to, and trusting him for our hope. God redeems even the worst things that happen to us in his time and in his way, creating a masterpiece that will someday be revealed.
Eugenie Daniels is a freelance writer in Williamstown, Massachusetts.