It’s been a year since I embarked on that new treatment path. Sadly, none of the prescribed medications or supplements have made a significant impact on my ability to function. Some of them have even made me feel worse!
What sorts of changes have you hoped for in your life, over the past 12 months? Have your hopes been satisfied or disappointed?
For me, this year of hopeful horizons and disappointing dead ends has been a struggle at times. I’ve procrastinated when it comes to trying new drugs, for fear of unwanted side-effects. I’ve delayed a few follow-up appointments because I haven’t had the emotional energy to examine what seems, increasingly, to be an incurable condition. (Not the model patient at times. I hope you don’t emulate this avoidance behaviour!)
This year has presented me with a bunch of uncomfortable, hard-to-answer questions:
- How can I cope, spiritually, when the good and right things I hope for remain out of reach?
- God has the power to change my circumstances for the better, yet he hasn’t taken my struggles away. Why?
- How can I put into practice what the Bible teaches about hope?
- How is the hope I have in Jesus different to the hope I have in other things — hope that’s led to disappointment?
These are not just abstract questions for me! They make a very real difference in my ability to stay afloat when my life is flooded by pain, my thoughts are swimming with uncertainty, and my cheeks are soaked with stinging, snot-mingled tears.
What have your struggles been in recent years? What makes your floodgates open?
Have medical test results come back positive (which is not “positive” news at all)? Are you still unwell, despite trying your best to take care of yourself.
Have you failed to fall pregnant, again; or lost a precious baby? Are you caring for a dependent child and feeling utterly depleted?
Are you stuck in a job that’s draining away your vitality? Are you out of work, wishing you could regain the autonomy and financial stability that work used to provide?
Are you still hoping to find that life partner you long to meet, or waiting for restoration in that broken relationship you’ve been praying about for years?
When hope dries up
We all struggle in different ways. Without hope, the hardships we face can drain away our inner reservoirs of joy and vitality.
But what can we do when we’ve hoped and hoped, worked and worked, persevered and persevered, yet our circumstances remain the same? Sometimes it’s just too painful to keep looking forward when there doesn’t seem to be much to look forward to.
The topic of hope might be a daunting one for you. Maybe you’ve become spiritually cynical or despondent — not daring to hope again, not ready to pray anymore — because of the way you’ve been so bitterly disappointed.
If this is you, I want to reassure you that these feelings are normal. Something I’ve come to understand, since passionately committing my life to Jesus as a naïve teenager many years ago, is that spiritual dry patches are a fact of the Christian life.
Not just for you and me, but also for many of the people we read about in the Bible. Jonah and Elijah come to mind, two prophets who struggled with an overwhelming sense of despondency: What is God doing?! I don’t get it! I give up, Lord – it’s all too hard for me. Choose someone else to do your work! I’m not cut our for this!
Both prophets needed some pretty serious intervention before they could keep going in the difficult paths set before them. (I love how the Bible includes these spiritual failure stories! More about that in a later post.)
A hope-filled Christian life doesn’t look like this!
Before looking at what biblical hope looks like, in Hope #3, let’s look at what hope doesn’t look like. Why? Because I think we sometimes have an unrealistic view of what a hope-filled life looks like and this can tie us up in knots. (No? Must only be me then. 😉)
A Christian who is full of hope:
- Doesn’t always possess a naturally sunny temperament
- Doesn’t have to be a particularly strong person, physically or emotionally
- Can sometimes experience self-doubt
If you’ve ever felt less-than-confident about the good gifts from God that you’re hoping for — the improved health, the baby, the life partner, the job, the restored relationship — that’s OK.
Why is it OK?
Doesn’t it mean we’re not having faith in God’s promises?
Well, no, because we’re not called to put our hope in improved circumstances; we’re called to put our hope in God. (We sometimes get the two mixed up. More about that in Hope #4)
When are we most blessed?
If you are all dried up; if your enthusiasm has waned; if your spiritual fervour has left you; if you lack the self-discipline to pick yourself back up again; if your future looks bleak; if you’re coming undone; if you don’t have anything left to give; if you are any of these things, don’t be alarmed.
Here’s what’s happening: You’re being stripped of the illusion that you can control your external circumstances. You’re being stripped of the illusion that you are strong and self-sufficient and totally OK on your own. You’re being stripped of the illusion that things in this life can fill your deepest needs. You’re coming face-to-face with an uncomfortable reality, perhaps for the first time: you need something more.
Let me finish with some beautiful words straight from the mouth of our Lord, Jesus. (How refreshing is this paraphrase of the Beatitudes from The Message?!)
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. (Matt 5:3-6)
Lord Jesus, you lived among us and showed us what’s most important in life: you taught that we’re truly blessed when we’re walking closely with God. We’re sorry for all the times we forget this.
Lord, we long for relief. We long for our situations to improve. Some of us long for our pain to lessen and our health to improve. Others yearn for closer relationships, for families full of laughter and love. Others long for financial security and stability. These are all wonderful gifts from you, and we do continue to pray for relief in our circumstances.
But as we wait for your intervention, please help us to fix our eyes on you. Help us to discover the treasure of knowing you more deeply. Please fill us with perseverance. Please help us to put our hope in you. Help us to remember that improved circumstances are not the ultimate answer to our happiness. Help us to long for you even more than we long for the good gifts that you provide. Amen.
How can I help you grow?
I’ve created a colouring page for those of you who find it calming to have a creative outlet. The Bible verse is from the book of Lamentations, and it’s the New Living Translation (NLT). This brilliant YouTube clip by The Bible Project explains what the book of Lamentations is all about. Well worth watching!
What I love about this verse is the first line, “Yet I still dare to hope…” That line hits me in the gut. It captures something so meaningful: In one breath, the poet expresses (1) the bitterness of grief when dealing with the brokenness of this world, and (2) the fact that God is still intimately involved in our lives. We can put our hope in him, regardless of our circumstances, because he is faithful (more about that in Hope #5).
I’ve created some downloadable photos based on the same verses. Click on the preview, below, to go to the Photo Verses section of my Resource Library. This photo is available in three different sizes: phone, iPad and laptop
Here’s a one-minute video I made after our recent holiday. Aren’t those clouds just stunning? The verses come from Lamentations chapter 23.
This is a great article if you want to read more about the depression experienced by some of the greatest Bible heroes: 7 Bible Figures Who Struggled With Depression.
And here’s an interview with Terry Powell, someone who works in Christian ministry and who’s struggled personally with depression: A Christian Perspective on Depression.
The song, Blessings in Disguise, by Laura Story is a wonderfully comforting and insightful expression of the things I’ve talked about in this post. Listen to the song here on YouTube. You can also read the story behind the song here in this interview.
Need further support?
If your grief and sorrow are overwhelming, please reach out for help. Please don’t try handling it alone. Links to crisis support lines, worldwide, can be found at the end of this post.
If you need ongoing support, you can search for a Christian counsellor in your area on this site (USA and Canada) or here (Australia). For other countries try a Google search, e.g. Christian counsellors South Africa. (NB If you already see a counsellor whom you’re happy with, don’t feel you need to leave them in search of a Christian one!)
Over the next few weeks, my friends and I in the 15:5 Tribe will be discussing the ideas of thankfulness and grief. You’re welcome to join us! Connect with other Christians who are striving to be thankful while also wrestling honestly and openly with their grief. More info about the 15:5 Tribe can be found here.