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!

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.

 

 

Prayer for the New Year

A Prayer of Faith

 We trust that beyond absence there is a presence.
That beyond the pain there can be healing.
That beyond the brokeness there can be wholeness.
That beyond the anger there may be peace.
That beyond the hurting there may be forgiveness.
That beyond the silence there may be the word.
That beyond the word there may be understanding.
That through understanding there is love.

                                                                                                            Author Unknown

The Tenacity of Hope

Living without hope is like burying oneself. – Buddha

life-hope

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.  I give thanks, however, that disappointment has 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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Here is some scripture to consider from Romans 5:3-5.  I’ve included verses from The Message and from the New International Version.  Be blessed!

3-5 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! (The Message)

 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 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. (NIV)

 

Go Ahead—Struggle

Today’s Spiritual Prescription:

Struggle

StruggleThere is something to be said about struggle.

As a baby comes through the birth canal, it may struggle to make its entry into the world, but being moved through such a tight space assures the child will have minimal fluid on its lungs when it takes that first breath.

Babies born by cesarean section, however, are at a greater risk of transient tachypnea (rapid and labored breathing) because the struggle to come through that narrow passage was avoided.

Yes.  To struggle can be a good thing.  And yet, we naturally prefer to avert it.  Certainly understandable.  Most people really rather not experience hardship.  Birth canal be damned!

But that’s not how life works.  In fact, life can often suck.  Big time.  In hospice, I meet individuals who have encountered the uglier sides of life.  I hear unbelievable, heartbreaking stories on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Amazingly, what I also hear in those stories of hardship are the epilogues of how  individuals rose up out of the ashes.  They were the ones who risked the vulnerability in reaching out to others, who shared about and processed their grief/loss/brokenness, and in turn helped others up out of their own ruins.

And with that…here’s your Spiritual Prescription:

S–T–R–U–G–G–L–E.

Seriously.

Be open to experiencing pain, loss, sadness or any other such crappy miseries.

Risk loving—with the chance of losing that which you have loved.  Risk going beyond your comfort zone—with the strong possibility of failure.  Take a chance on doing what you believe is right—even if you learn later that you were wrong.

Already “been there, done that” you say?

Then consider this:

Is there a past struggle that you are avoiding, ignoring, or keeping buried deep with in you?yellow rose

Is it a pain you’ve caused someone else?  A mistake or regret that you’d rather not face? Or perhaps harm caused to you that your harbor deep within?

Are you afraid to face the pain?  Are you attempting to drown out a loss or tragedy with too much work, recklessness, or self-medication (food, drugs, alcohol, sex, t.v.)?

Anais Nin once wrote,  “And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

 Struggle, but don’t remain there.

Don’t become bitter and close yourself off—remaining tight in that bud—because of past sufferings or in fear of new struggles. Allow yourself to open to the possibility of healing. Push through the darkness and into the light that you might reach out to others in return.

A bit of scripture to go along with your prescription:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Blessings to you in the struggle!