Today's guest is April Fiet. She is also part of my online community and I am honored to call her my friend. She encourages and challenges me with her writing. I love how she takes you on her journey of hope and the wrestling with it, and how that has played out in her life.
It feels wrong to write about hope while you are in the darkness of grief.
After all, hope is a sunny optimism, is it not?
When I was a young child, probably around the age of 7 or so, if you had asked me what hope meant, I probably would have told you that it meant being happy no matter what. I would have given you a definition that better suited the word "optimism" than the word "hope." Having grown up in church my entire life, I had internalized songs about joy, songs about praise. I heard stories about the triumph of good over evil. And, somehow, I assimilated this idea that Christians were to be filled with happiness all of the time.
After all, we were a people of hope. And hope does not disappoint.
The problem with this kind of hope is that it begins with the premise that things are already as they should be. This kind of view is more in line with the philosophical category of optimism that already believes the world is at its best. Optimism sees the best in every situation. Optimism is different from hope.
But in my juvenile understanding of hope, I equated hope with optimism. I believed that being a person of hope meant always having a smile on my face. I thought that times of sadness were sinful. That suffering was just a lack of perspective - not that I had never suffered. I had. I had been hurt. Deeply. I knew that the world was not at its best. I wanted to hope, but I did not know how. And, as I grew, (both in years and in my faith), I came to realize that hope was something completely other than optimism, though I did not know how to define it. Hope was something intangible, but hope was also something real.
I grappled with what it might mean to be a person of hope, but I did not know how to live it out. Perhaps I would recognize hope when I saw it.
And then this past summer, I heard someone define hope as, "Believing in something enough to do something about it." Hope did not mean that the world was already at its best. It did not mean plastering a smile on over my pain and broken-heartedness. It meant acknowledging the suffering, and believing in a better reality enough to do something about it. Hope was both intangible and active. Hope was somehow both a present reality and a future longing. In some mysterious way, hope was able to coexist with suffering and sadness.
Hope is the expectation of something better, the longing for the better to become a reality. Hope is believing in something enough to do something about it.
This kind of hope - a hope that is far more than naive optimism - not only is capable of co-existing with suffering, but it in some way also works to overcome it. Hope is not a passive optimism; it is an active pursuit.
But, what about those times when you can't seem to work toward the better you are longing for? What about those times when the darkness is so thick and palpable that you feel trapped by it, unable to move?
Sometimes the most active hope we can muster is picking up the phone and asking someone to help us - a family member, a friend, a therapist. And for darkness and despair that is more than simple sadness, sometimes this is the best way we can hope.
For me, at this moment in time, the darkness in my life comes from deep loss. Quite recently we lost a close family member to aggressive cancer. And the grief during times of profound loss brings the urgency of a renewed and healed world to the forefront. We need a Savior, and the darkness of grief makes that need both so apparent, and so hard to trust in.
Darkness and pain can make hope seem impossible.
Any remnant of optimism is shattered. Clearly, the world is not at its best. And the triumphant and active pursuit of hope seems more that my weary heart is capable of. Hope can still live in places like these - in those places of our lives that seem the most arid and hopeless. Sometimes our sorrow is the most appropriate form of protest. We weep because the world is not at its best. Our tears are the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Our broken hearts point the way toward the future reality in which every tear will be dried, and death will be no more.
Hope is faith with its boots on the ground - both in the moments of profound joy, and in the moments of deep pain.
Hope is believing in something enough to do something about it, even if the only thing we can do is weep.
April has served as a co-pastor with her husband Jeff for 7 years. They are raising two fantastic, school-age children, which keeps life fresh, fun, and a bit chaotic at times. April enjoys running (at a snail's pace), karate, baking bread, reading (theology and children's books), crocheting, and taking pictures of nearly everything. You can connect with April on her blog, At the Table with April Fiet and on Twitter.