A week ago today I was sitting in Honduras, staring into the flames of a bonfire on a mountainside just outside of the capital of Tegucigalpa. My senses were drinking in the beauty around me, savoring the smells of burning wood and pine trees, reveling in the goosebumps on my arms from the chill of the air and the heat of the fire. Surrounding me was the cheerful company of a mixed sort: missionaries from World Renew and Christian Reformed World Missions, volunteers from the Cohort program, friends from the organization AJS (Association for a more Just Society), and children of the aforementioned persons. Finding myself momentarily lacking conversation partners, my attention was quickly absorbed by the fire before me, as a moth to the flame. Many a thought flitted across my mind, there for a second and gone the next.
One, however, kept popping to the surface: hope.
I have been gnawing on this subject for the past couple of months, trying to grasp what that abstract word really means. Hope. When you think of it, what comes to mind? For me, for some reason the color blue comes to mind. Blue is peaceful, calm, centered. To me, that’s what hope is like. I’m sure some of Obama’s campaigns have also influenced my thought associations 🙂 But obviously hope is bigger than a color, much much bigger. What do you think of when I say the word hope? Even more, what gives you hope?
In Honduras, I asked my group of Cohort missioners the very same question: what is hope? In the everyday trenches of life, what are the things that give you hope? I wasn’t interested in hearing the Sunday School response of “God”—I wanted something more tangible than that. Yes, God gives us hope—but how? The responses I heard that evening were each unique and equally profound. One friend brought up Psalm 77 and how, by it, he is reminded to be hopeful by remembering the past and seeing the places where God’s hand has been. Look back—where do you see God’s presence in your story? What miracles has he shown you? What strength of faith and character has he given you in difficult moments? Remember that and hope. Another friend said that while being hopeful ever looks to the future (to restoration and shalom), it can also be seen in the little things right here and now. Seeing the bright eyes of a newborn baby, observing a moment of kindness or humility from an unexpected person or place, seeing something beautiful in a place where no beauty should be found, praising God in worship with brothers and sisters from around the world—these are the moments where hope can be seen most visible. These are the moments where hope manifests so obviously you just want to reach out and touch it.
After hearing these wonderful responses, a thought of my own jumped into my mind. The word for “hope” in Spanish is esperanza. This word derives from the word esperar which has two connotations: “to hope” and “to wait”. The Spanish language does not differentiate between the two, but in English we do. Never before had I ever intentionally connected the words “to wait” and “to hope” together in English, but now I was curious. Today I stumbled upon a very popular verse in the Bible: Isaiah 40:31. And guess what? The NIV version says “those who hope in the Lord” and the KJV says “those who wait upon the Lord”. Could the two words be more connected than I thought? Could there be hope in the waiting? This brings to mind my blog post from a few weeks back (“The Ache of Rain”) in which I explored the intensity of waiting. Looking at my examples, I realize something now that I didn’t see before: there was Hope in the wait Sarah and Abraham endured; there was Hope in the 40 years in the wilderness; there is Hope in the return of our Lord and Savior.
In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13, I’d like to share my own version for Hope: “Hope is patient, hope is kind. It does not give up, it does not despair, it is not weak. It looks to the past, it embraces the moment, and it believes in the future. Hope does not delight in misery, but rejoices in the truth. It always expects, always trusts, always persists, always endures.”