I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately. Maybe because my energy is wearing thin as my health has deteriorated over the last few months. How do we keep hope from dwindling with our circumstances? I’m working on it. I’ve been working on it for years and it still takes work.
At first glance, hope can feel flippant and flighty: a bright bubble lifting us up out of out of our reality and into another, better reality… someday. It is a tall, slender lighthouse reaching to the sky, shining its light for all to see. We hope for restoration, ultimate victory, heaven on earth, an end to our pain. These are what I call lighthouse hopes. They are tall and strong and shine a bright light. We talk a good talk around hope. But it’s easy to lose when it gets squirmy and doesn’t play out the way we want it to, isn’t it? Maybe that’s why it can feel so flimsy.
So how do you hold on to it? How does it look and feel in real life when you’ve not gotten the jobs you’ve applied for, your health is not improving, and depression is calling you to sleep through your life? What if the worst thing you can imagine happens, what then? Hoping someone has a good day is easy. Hoping for the rest? It gets tricky.
As I’ve wrestled with hope in my own life, I’ve started to understand that true hope changes as circumstances change, and we have to allow it to do so. When I first got sick, my ultimate hope was perfect healing. I thought I could go back to my old life within weeks or at most, months. I didn’t realize I would be sick for so long. Perfect healing is a hope I still have, but after six years, my everyday hopes are not lighthouse hopes. Lighthouse hope became too painful. The disappointment of relapse after relapse nearly broke me. For this reason, I started focusing not on the end goal, but on the present hope of taking care of my kids, reducing immediate pain levels, being as active as my body will allow, enjoying my new life, and learning how to move forward even before I reach my ultimate lighthouse of perfect healing. It’s not that I don’t have lighthouse hope, but that my focus is not on it.
I think when we lose hope in life, it’s because instead of understanding that our hope needs to morph and grow as life gets hard, it feels like it’s just gone. Poof. The lighthouse has vanished behind the too-tall waves of our chaotic lives. Now we’re drowning in a stormy ocean with no direction. And as we cling to what we think it should look like and where it was just a minute ago, it slips right through our fingers. It doesn’t look how we expected it to look anymore or feel how we want it to feel. It should be a tall tower full of light, but where is it? The night is black and we’ve been pushed out to sea. But when we keep searching for it and wrestling with it and refusing to let go of it, confusion morphs to understanding and we start to realize what it is becoming.
Instead of a lighthouse, hope becomes a big, fat, sturdy boat (and if not a boat, at least a floating piece of wood), able to keep us afloat in the storm. It’s not as tall, it’s not as beautiful, and it’s not as safe as the lighthouse of hope. It’s not easy to maneuver. But a lighthouse can’t keep us from sinking, it can’t save us from the stormy waves before we reach the shore. When we think of hope in shorter, wider terms, it becomes defiant of every obstacle and stubbornly won’t let us give up.
Transforming hope can be a painful process as our minds adjust to a new focal point. It feels slippery as it morphs and takes work to keep a firm grasp on it. But even though it can be intensely heavy and is a challenge to hold, this kind of hope catches us and keeps us from drowning as we wait to reach the lighthouse. Sturdy, everyday hope is the hope right in front of us in our weakest moments; it’s never out of reach. It’s the hope of making it through the day, of driving the kids to school, of making meals for everyone. It’s the beauty of cuddles from your dog, of a sunny day, of a moment of peace in the midst of chaos, of your favorite song on the radio, of hearing your children giggle hysterically. This is sturdy, everyday hope, and it is all around us, even in the storms.
Many of us are afraid to shift our focus off of the lighthouse. We want ultimate healing. We want our illness gone, our depression lifted, our homes to stay out of foreclosure, our relationships restored to perfection. These are lighthouse hopes. They give us direction, but unfortunately, it will not leave the shore and cannot always keep us afloat. Sometimes, we need to shift the focus of our hope to be a little closer to where we are in everyday life. Find the boat beneath your feet. What does it feel like? What does it look like? How can you take care of that hope so that it keeps you afloat while you’re in the middle of this storm?
This is what finding beauty is all about. It’s the HOW. How do we find hope when the lighthouse is out of reach? How do we hold on to it when it disappears and gets squirmy? We find beauty. As we look for the little beauties all around us, even in circumstances we don’t want, we begin to develop a peace in our circumstances. I’m not saying we love being in pain 24 hours a day for months at a time, but that as we are in pain (since we can’t change this), we intentionally seek out OTHER beauties in our lives and become grateful for them. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it makes being in pain more manageable. Then, we begin to feel slivers of peace in difficulty. This is true everything-is-really-awful-but-I did-not-come-all-this-way-to-give-up-now peace. It’s here that peace transforms into a foundation of hope within your reach.
Finding beauty brings us the peace that lead us into a stronger, more defiant, more sturdy, everyday hope, able to withstand a storm. When the storm passes, then we look to the lighthouse.
I think it’s also important to note that while we may need to shift our focus to an everyday hope in the midst of chaos, we can ask the other people in our lives to hope and pray for the lighthouse hope for us. Just because we are in too deep to see the lighthouse doesn’t mean others can’t see it for us.
Psalm 27:13-14 – For I would have lost heart had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!
John 14:27- Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.