Waiting for hope

Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.

roller coaster photo

photo courtesy Ryan DeLaney

Life’s a mess. One minute you’re up, the wind on your face. You’ve been voted most likely to succeed. In cap and gown, you receive the diploma. You get the job, the promotion, the raise. You master that skill that’s been eluding you. Your life’s love slips the ring on your finger. The baby’s a girl – and you can tell by the cry that she’s fine. The person you least expected is giving you a compliment. You’re laughing with a friend. You’re cuddling with a child. You’re singing as you work. All’s well with the world.

The next minute, you’re down. You can still feel the wind, but now it hits against you, biting, cold. And the drop has come so suddenly you feel you’re going to lose your lunch. You flunked. You’re laid off. The other candidate got the job, the promotion, the raise. Your fiancé wants to break the engagement. Your spouse wants a divorce. Your baby’s sick. Your teenager hurls stinging words to your face. Your “friends” say hurtful words behind your back.

Your car breaks down. Your washing machine breaks down. Your life breaks down. You’re tired. You’re sick. You’re angry. You’re depressed.

Then, you’re up again. The loan comes through. A new relationship buds. An encouraging letter or phone call arrives.

Life’s a mess. One minute you’re going a certain way. You have a plan. You have a dream. You’re sure the plan will get you to the dream. The next minute you’re jerked around 180 degrees. Without warning, you find yourself barreling at top speed away from what you hoped to accomplish, who you hoped to be.

You’re still single, though you intended to be married by now. You’re single again. You can’t get pregnant. Your baby changes your life in ways you hadn’t imagined. You leave the workplace. You enter the workplace. You switch careers. You relocate. Your youngest starts school. Your youngest leaves the nest. Now 20-something, your youngest moves back in. You become caregiver for a sick or aging relative.

And about the time you get oriented to each new course, your life takes off a different way. Up, then down, then jerked around, you’re frightened and more than a bit queasy. Like a roller coaster rider at a fair, you hear yourself scream …

Long before you and I were born, an Old Testament poet rode life’s roller coaster. He faced as many ups and downs and hairpin turns as we. When barreling where he had not planned to go, he yelled too. It’s what he yelled that is so very interesting.

Ratcheting upward, he cried, “Put your hope in the Lord” (Ps 131:3). Plummeting downward, he cried, “Put your hope in God” (Ps. 42:5).

By hope, that ancient poet did not mean wishful thinking. He meant confident expectation. He urged us all, but first himself, to reach for the good hope that springs from looking toward and resting in the Lord.

At times, the poet laid hold of that hope. At times, even in chaos, he could declare, “I have calmed and quieted myself” (Ps. 131:2). Literally: “I make level and make quiet my soul.”

Other times, even when the poet looked to God, he did not immediately find hope. Those times, he admitted as much. “My soul is downcast within me,” he confessed. And, repeatedly, he cried: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps. 42:6, 5, repeated in 42:11 and 43:5).

Still today, the God of that Old Testament singer remains sovereign, stable, good. Intimately present, he rides the roller coaster with all who hope in him. Ever faithful, he promises to make even the most crooked places straight, even the roughest places smooth.

In desperate times, it’s incredibly challenging to lay hold of that assurance. It’s incredibly rewarding when you do: It feels wonderful to find yourself waiting in quiet hope and encouraging others to do the same. It feels dreadful to seek the God you thought you knew while hope continues to hide. It feels like a betrayal on God’s part, or a failure on yours, or both.

Yet George Matheson, a Scottish minister who lived more than a century ago, offers a new perspective to our hurting hearts. He wrote:

Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.[i]

Life’s a mess. When yours feels like a nightmare amusement-park ride that never ends, look to the one in whom hope lives: Rivet your gaze on the Lord your God. Appeal to him. Cling to him.

Then, as hope rises up, cooperate with it to calm and quiet your soul.

And if hope doesn’t appear? If it delays so long you think it will never come? Then, dear one, do not bail on God. And do not beat yourself up. You will yet praise him. In the meantime, summon the strength you do not know you have – and wait for hope.

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© 1996, 2005, 2017 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.

[i] George Matheson, quoted in Jesus Today (Sarah Young, 2013, p. 14). For more by Matheson on waiting for hope, see Christy Foldenauer, “15 years of inspiration (and counting) from George Matheson.”