Two weeks to flatten the curve…
Just one semester online, and then things will improve over the summer…
Maybe by fall things will be normal…
Cases are beginning to decline, and maybe we can resume in-person worship by Christmas…
OK, just one holiday season spent social distancing, and then we’ll get this under control…
Things are going to get better eventually…
Will they really?
For the last two years, I have tried to hope even when better days seemed impossible. I tried to take things one day at a time, not get too far ahead of myself, and look at the good things I had rather than the things I was losing out on. However, as much as I tried to hope, I also got caught up in doomscrolling. (I once heard someone say we aren’t really doomscrolling. They said we are “hope scrolling” – searching and searching and searching for something good in the midst of all the despair. I like that, even if I’m not sure it’s true.)
I became afraid to hope. Every time I allowed myself to look forward to less fearful days, something else would close down or get canceled, or something would happen that drove home the reality of the times in which we were living. I tried to hope, if only for my children and my church, but I became almost reliant on the sense of anxiousness that inevitably would show up when I turned on the news or read my newsfeed online.
I developed an unhealthy relationship with expectation. I expected the rug to be pulled out from under me. I expected more pain, more suffering, more loss. The only thing I allowed myself to hope for was more of the same. Isn’t that sad?
As the seasons are changing and the chill of winter greets my face when I step outside every morning, I have felt a conflict in my heart. This is supposed to be the season when hope embraces us with warmth and kindness. This is supposed to be the time when what we dare to hope for seems closer than ever before. Yet, I find myself afraid to open my heart all the way up to what hope offers because if I allow myself to hope, it is also possible I will allow myself to be let down once again.
With this in mind, I decided to approach the Advent wreath with honesty. I’m uncertain about Advent. I’m uncertain I can hope. I’m uncertain about what’s possible for me. The only thing I’m certain about is that I don’t want to go through Advent with this heaviness on my heart. I want to find a way to release it so that healing can begin to happen. I want to exchange uncertainty for hope.
Four years ago, I decided to do an “Anti-Advent project,” in which I leaned into each Advent week’s opposite in order to understand more of what Advent means. For the week on hope, I leaned into resignation, because hope is not an emotion. It’s the state of holding onto the rope, even when we want to let go, and even when all that’s left of the rope is a thread. Hope receives the rope, and resignation rescinds it. I also discovered that the word for “hope” in Hebrew is related to the word for “cord” that is used in the story of Rahab. Hope is a crimson cord hung in the window, even when the world outside the window is falling apart.
While I still believe hope isn’t a feeling, and it is something we can do even when we don’t feel like it, I have wondered what hope looks like when we are too weary to hold onto the rope at all. I stumbled across this little verse in 1 Timothy 1, and it is a balm for my uncertain heart: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope…”
“Christ Jesus our hope.”
What if, when I am too weary to hold onto the cord of hope, Jesus intercedes and hopes for me?
What if, when hope seems too far out of reach, Christ becomes Hope for us?
And can it be?
Advent for Uncertain Hearts Candle Lighting Litany – Week 1 – When It Is Hard to Hope
Typically, I begin with all of the candles in place in my Advent wreath. This year, I am beginning with just the wreath and no candles. Each week, we will place a candle in the wreath as we ask God to help us receive the gifts of each Advent week.
Reader 1: In Psalm 62, we find these words: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5, NRSV). Our hope comes from God. It is not something we have to produce, manufacture, or do. In this season of uncertainty, we quiet our souls and we wait for God.
Reader 2: We wait for God, for God is our hope.
Reader 1: The prophet Isaiah invites us with these words: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1, NRSV). We are parched and weary. We are longing to be refreshed and restored. We are thirsty for hope anew.
Reader 2: In a conversation with a thirsty and theologically savvy woman at a well, Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14, NRSV). We wait for this living water from God, for God is our hope.
Reader 1: Today, we are placing the candle of hope in our Advent wreath. <place candle in wreath and light it> We do this not because we have hope figured out or because we have perfectly pushed our uncertainty away. We place the candle of hope to remind us that when we cannot hope for ourselves, Jesus is our hope.
Reader 2: We wait for God, for God is our hope.
All: This season of Advent, Lord, we offer our uncertain hearts to you. Mend our broken places, and soothe our reluctant hearts. Even when hope is more than we can offer, we cling to you. Hope for us even when we cannot find hope within ourselves. Amen.
For the rest of the Advent for Uncertain Hearts series: