There’s a beautiful neighborhood adjacent to ours that makes me feel like I’ve been transported to the mountains, so that’s where I end up most mornings. Everything is still and quiet. Birds sing and the sun rises slowly, and I breathe and pray and try my best to clear my head. It’s exactly what I didn’t know I needed.
As much as it might feel like it, it’s not an actual hiking trail though. There are houses nestled among the trees. And there are two specific houses I learn from each morning.
Really, the lesson I learn from the first house is from the growing pile of debris left on their curb. I’ve seen rolled up old carpet. An ancient oven. Old doors and drywall. And I’ve seen empty boxes that, not too long ago, held what is new: Kitchen tile. A pressure washer. A weed whacker. A couple new light fixtures. And what I’ve gathered is that whoever lives there is using this time to complete some home improvement projects.
The second house I learn from is a brand new construction home up for sale, and each day I notice more work being done. Putting in sod, pouring concrete for the driveway, installing a garage door.
Maybe I’m reading too much into these things, but I’m choosing to cling to hope wherever I can right now. Whether it’s intentional or not, to me, these home improvement projects and even the continuation of new construction are small acts of hope in the middle of a really dire circumstance.
You see, the home improvement projects certainly make things better in the present, but they are also an investment in the future. When all is said and done, they add value to the home. And through the people working on the new construction, I’m shown that they believe someday, someone will purchase it and live there. And so even if it feels like life has stopped or is in limbo, these projects subtly reveal that there are people working toward what is to come, and that helps me remember that our current circumstance is not forever.
Because sometimes it feels like it is. And I often need to be reminded that it’s not.
This particular time in history is difficult. We are dealing with so many different things all at once - loss, grief, death, loneliness, uncertainty, fear, and frustration. And while it’s certainly unprecedented in and of itself, I have a feeling this is not the first difficult season most of us have walked through, and it probably won’t be the last.
I find that I often view my own personal hardship or difficulty as something to just get through. Grin and bear it. Put my head down and endure. Maybe you can relate? And I think that approach might seem to work for a little while, but I’ve found that I quickly lose steam and it isn’t sustainable. Because more often than not, there isn’t a clear-cut end to difficulties, and that makes it challenging to have hope in the middle of them.
And yet, as followers of Jesus, we are called to hope. If you’re listening to this episode near its release date, you know that we just celebrated Easter, the event that gives us ultimate hope. And we are called to carry that hope with us into each and every day, each and every circumstance. But we also observed Good Friday a couple days before, and we know we are well acquainted with the weight of all that day holds. Even Easter people aren't immune to the broken edges of this world. So what does it look like to have hope in the middle of broken things?
Let’s start with what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t mean we have to plaster on a smile and bright exterior and quickly fake our way through. It’s important to go at our own pace and acknowledge how we are actually feeling and what we are actually thinking. Hope does not negate honesty.
But hope does believe our current circumstances aren’t the end of the story. Even if it seems there is no end in sight. Hope works toward and has faith in the future we know is coming. Even if we can’t feel it or see it in the right here, right now.
Remember the Chicken Soup for the Soul books? There’s a sweet story in one of them about the people of a small farming town in the middle of a drought, and I’d like to share my rendition of the story with you:
"The fields were parched and brown from lack of rain, and the crops lay wilting from thirst. People were anxious and irritable as they searched the sky for any sign of relief. Days turned into arid weeks. No rain came.
The ministers of the local churches called for an hour of prayer on the town square one Saturday. They requested that everyone bring an object of faith and hope for inspiration.
At high noon on the appointed Saturday, the townspeople turned out en masse, filling the square with anxious faces and hopeful hearts. The ministers were touched to see the variety of objects clutched in prayerful hands - holy books, family Bibles, crosses, rosaries. But from the middle of the crowd, one faith and hope symbol seemed to overshadow all the others. A small nine-year old child had decided to bring an umbrella.”
Oh, to have faith like a child. Mustering up that kind of hope is often easier said than done, especially when we are smack dab in the middle of the thing. And so today, I want to gently offer one simple invitation. Wherever you might be struggling (whether it’s virus-related or maybe something completely separate), the first small step into hope might be to look up. To perhaps move from a posture of putting your head down to just get through, and instead, lifting your gaze and paying attention. This definitely won’t make your current circumstance disappear, but it will help to make the difficulty worth something.
Actress Dorothy Bernard once wrote, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” And along those same lines, I’d like to offer that maybe hope is despair that’s decided to look up.
Because when we look up, our hurt is no longer in vain.
When we look up, we notice how our circumstance might be changing us, and we commit to what might be making us better.
When we look up, we learn what we’ll carry with us, and what we’ll decide to let go of.
When we look up, we explore how God might be working, even in this.
When we look up, we choose to have faith in the One who is always faithful, even if it doesn’t align with our timing, our plan, or our preferences.
When we look up, we listen to Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, and “18 …we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
May we cling to the hope we’ve been given. Not because of our circumstances, but in spite of them. And if today, you feel like you just can’t, remember, the first step might be to simply look up.