I delivered this message at my internship site’s Comfort and Hope Service, which is very similar to other congregation’s Blue Christmas service. These are worship services for those who are experiencing loss or hurt during the holidays, and this season is difficult as a result. I was grateful I was asked to give this message last week.
I have a confession to make. Being super hopeful has never been a real natural thing for me.
I don’t know if you struggle with it too, but I sure do.
It’s because I hate hoping for something and then it doesn’t happen.
Instead of admitting that I don’t have control over everything, I turn inward and say “Oh man, I was wrong again.” Hoping, and waiting, and waiting, and finding out something didn’t happen isn’t fun.
Because when my husband and I moved from the Pacific Northwest to Minnesota with a fresh start as newlyweds I thought I had it right.
I was checking so many boxes off of what I thought was a successful adult life – checking them off like a mad woman.
Get a college degree – check
Fall in love – check
Get married – check
Drive off together and start a new life – check
I had it all. I was mastering the checklist to become a full-fledged adult. Which, of course, I found out that although these checklist items were wonderful and life-giving, going through life with only a checklist in hand is kind of missing the point.
I was hoping that people would respect me, believe in me, and trust me – finally because of my amazing adult checklist.
So why was I so sad?
Why did I have such a hard time making new friends in Minnesota?
Why was I suddenly never raising my hand in class as the winter snow started just after Halloween?
Why did I feel the disappearance of my compass and vision for my purpose and saving the world through good theology?
Why did I feel like this was the hardest year – and we were supposed to be newlyweds?
Why did this mountain of fear seem so tall in these plains of the Upper Midwest?
Things I used to love suddenly felt hard and cold.
Like flying and travel – I told a new friend of ours, my husband’s supervisor about not wanting to fly as we sat around in their rural church office, warmed by conversation and surrounded by snow and ice.
He said, “Think about it this way: God has brought you to where you are today. What is leading you to believe God won’t carry you through this next part?” Or said another way: if God has brought you this far, why wouldn’t God keep carrying you through this next challenge?
Logically, he made sense.
And usually, when the truth is smack dab in front of my face at this, I get defensive and make an argument for why the other person’s theology is somehow insufficient or poorly constructed.
But I just couldn’t.
I was so tired of trying to control the future because I was scared.
I was driven to my knees by hope.
This simple word of hope.
All I could do was stand open – letting go of my attempts to be in control and let God do God’s thing – like God always does.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
That’s from the book of Isaiah chapter 43. These are holy words that have been preserved from campfire storytelling to campfire storytelling, papyrus scroll to papyrus scroll, manuscript to manuscript. Over two-thousand years, this passage has remained in this Bible. If God has brought such a beautiful word of hope, and sustained it through painstakingly slow copying by hand, and probably a spilled glass of water or two by one of the writers (because who doesn’t that happen to) what leads you to believe God can’t carry you through the next hurtle?
The love, respect, and trust of others that I was seeking did not come from my checking off my list of things successful adults do. It came from God. It’s a big risk to hope – but I’ve found that you don’t find God’s hope and God’s peace by being right. You find it, by being open—which is SO hard, trust me, but God has never been about clenched fists, and has always been about an open hand.
I wish I had a 1-2-3 step process for you, but I’m kind of glad I don’t. Because none of us can find peace from a list, or a checklist. We find peace when we fall on our knees, with our faces set to the rising sun, realizing God’s been there all along. It’s the most unglamorous picture, but it’s where we’re tired, and muddy, and we’re done dwelling in fear that change can happen, and in our darkness shines a glimmer of light.
I hope you see that glimmer, if not tonight in the days to come, like I saw in my friend, because God’s hope holds you tonight and shines on you in the rising sun. Let it be so.