From Suffering to Hope

You’ve been there.  I’m there right now.

It’s those times when the pressures in life are emotionally crushing, spiritually draining, and physically exhausting.  To make matters worse, a relief from the suffering seems distant and hope, sadly, isn’t even on the horizon.

The Apostle Paul speaks to the community of believers in Rome about the transitional steps from hardship to hope in Romans 5:1-5. He encourages them to “glory” in their suffering  because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” 

I love the way Eugene Peterson translates this same text into contemporay language:

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

That last line reminds me of a beautiful phrase I was given by a friend just this evening, “I am blessed beyond my comprehension.”

I’m carrying quite a bit of anxiety right now, but if I can focus on God’s gracious power to remove suffering and transform it into hope, I know I will survive this time and more than that, I will sing praises and rise above!

May you rise as well!

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Tenacity of Hope Revisited


As the first week of Advent continues to unfold, I offer this pondering on hope I wrote last year.  Consider today:                     What nourishes your soul?

What gives you the strength to carry on when life gets rough? 


 

Living without hope is like burying oneself. – Buddha

life-hope

Years ago, I worked with a chaplain who did not believe in using the word hope in her vocabulary.

She viewed it as “too Christian.”  Hope was wrapped up in a theology of wishful thinking that placed one’s future in the hands of a God she did not believe in.

I have pondered her attitude about hope off and on for years.

Perhaps hope resides too much in the future and sets too many people up for broken dreams and broken hearts.  “Disappointment,” according to Eric Hoffer, “is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”

Sure.  I’ve been there.

I have cried out for change and healing and direction in my life only to be more than disappointed when my hopes and expectations were not realized.  And, to be frank, each and every time it sucked.  I give thanks, however, that these disappointments have yet to extinguish my ability or desire to continue to hope.

William Sloan Coffin once said, “Hope arouses, as nothing else can arouse, a passion for the possible.

Because of my faith, even in the face of disappointment, I trust that God’s spirit is at work despite the train wreck my life may appear to be at times.  In my hope I am embodying that passion for the possible.

Restless the other night with the usual worries I recalled this scripture:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 13:4 NKJV)

Over and over I repeated these words, a mantra filled with tomorrow’s possibilities that soothed me back to sleep.

This is why I am a person of faith.

This is why I treasure my Christian tradition and spiritual practices.

In the times I feel life’s stressors pressing in, I need only to turn to scripture, or prayer, or a fellow spiritual sojourner for strength and guidance while gaining a renewed hope for the future.

That said, I am not convinced hope is exclusively Christian and perhaps, all these years later, neither does that other chaplain.

I have witnessed hospice patients of all spiritual persuasions remain hopeful throughout their disease process. Their hopes may change—hope for healing becomes a hope for comfort, which sometimes moves into the simplest hope of a good bowel movement, and eventually the hope for a peaceful death—but always their  eyes are on the horizon, seeking the best that tomorrow may bring.

That’s the tenacity of hope.  It’s is about never giving up!

Whatever you are facing, may you find a renewed hope that lightens your burdens and makes your journey a little bit easier.

 

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HOPE

HOPE.

This week, the first week of Advent, HOPE is our focus as we consider as Christians how our faith stirs hope within us.

This is the time of year, however, when that word is often plugged into sentences that have more to do with the pressures the Holidays than the hope that can be found in the Advent Season.

hope I can find something for everyone on my list.  

 I hope the mall traffic isn’t horrendous.

I hope I don’t go into too much debt again this Christmas.

I hope the drinking doesn’t get out of hand this year.

I hope there isn’t too much family feuding.

I hope no one mentions our recent loss.

I hope the depression or loneliness isn’t too severe.

Whatever is anxiously bubbling up for you this time of year, consider these words from Romans 15:13:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   

My friends, do not allow the frenzy of this Holiday Season to distract you from the Holy Season of Advent.

Let your focus be on the joy and peace that comes not only in following Christ, but in trusting that the God of hope is at work in our lives.  No matter the struggles, no matter the despair that can rise up in the dark winter days or when you’re not sure how you’ll afford Christmas or when family tensions are rising, remember that God does not forget nor forsake us.

This Advent may we witness hope being transformed into peace between family members, neighbors, and countries. May we fashion with God’s help a hope that comes in the form of courageous and creative change to dire situations. In this Holy Season and every season, may we plant seeds of hope in the hearts of the downtrodden and feel it overflowing from our very own souls.

 

 

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

The song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”  was made famous by singer Andy Williams in the 1960’s and quickly became a Holiday classic .  (Are you humming it yet?)

And sure, for many it is the most wonderful time of the year. (Look how happy those folks are giving their best Christmas tree thumbs up. )

I have friends who have already, long before Thanksgiving, posted on Facebook their excitement and anticipation of the Holiday Season.  A few even shared photos of this year’s lights and Christmas decorations. (Oh, the horror of it all!!)

But here’s the deal.  For many, this is NOT the happiest time of year.

I witness year after year the struggles of those overwhelmed before and after the Holiday Season.  Family tensions, loneliness, financial struggles, unfulfilled wishes–all these and more contribute to a less-than joyful experience of the Holidays.  I have certainly been there myself.

This year I will resist the temptation to dive into the Holiday frenzy and  instead immerse myself ever deeper into my faith.

I will actively engage Advent, the liturgical season that marks the start of the new Christian year.

It is a time of contemplating and waiting on not only the first coming of Christ–which we honor on Christmas day–but the Second Coming as well, when God’s Reign on earth will be undeniable.

Please, don’t get caught up in the frantic, busy-ness of the Holiday Season.

Join me here starting next Sunday (you could even subscribe!!) for a weekly Advent reflection of hope, peace, joy, and love as we mindfully make our way to the manger to rejoice,  once again, in the birth of Jesus.

See you next week!

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Rise Up, Christians!

I have been searching for months for adequate words that might tell of my heart’s sorrow.

I witness again and again so much hate on the airwaves and in the news and in the comment section of far too many websites and social media platforms.  I am stunned each time the President of the United States freely belittles or threatens others on Twitter. Has it really come to that!?

We have morphed into a society that gives free-reign to the inner monologue—those thoughts often best kept in the confine of one’s mind—as the core of public discourse.  I find this kind of hate-filled, one-sided conversation to be a vile regurgitation of personal opinions that come with little regard for speaking one’s truth in love and compassion.

And let us not think that Christians are innocent of such behaviors.

Yes, it would be naïve to believe all of the mean, nasty comments we read are NOT from the hearts of Christians.  I, myself, have no doubt I stand guilty of the occasional heart-less comment or two.  If anything, I am guilty of mentally approving of someone else’s mean-spirited opinion or post.

A recent spiritual discipline I have engaged is resisting the urge to respond immediately to things that I read on-line, especially when negatively triggered by the words or visuals.  Beyond restraining my fingers from firing off, I am understanding that my thoughts must be equally tempered.

What about you?

What motivates you to post on-line or comment, especially when you do not agree with an article or statement?

Is it pride, arrogance, fear, or disgust? Do you comment just to have your own opinions heard?

The Apostle Paul advises in his letter to the church of Rome:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

I can hear Paul addressing Christians today with similar words of wisdom:

Rise up, Christians!

Let not the world dictate how you respond to friends and strangers alike.  Conform no more and instead be transformed by the renewing of your minds!

Pause–breathe–and pray before you share your thoughts with others.

Be that much needed holy and acceptable, living sacrifice to God.   Speak and post what is good, acceptable, and perfect in God’s eyes.

My Christian sisters and brothers, please…join me in being that living sacrifice.

Your voice of compassion and the love of God you can share are needed more than ever in the world today!

 

 

 

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