This past Sunday, while I was leaving church, I ran into a friend I haven’t seen for some time. We exchanged pleasantries and “how are things?” since neither of us were exactly able to identify which major story thread we last left off on. Looking at the tapestry of my year, I searched for well composed narratives with neatly stitched conclusions pertaining to anything she might be familiar with, but I found many story lines unfinished, frayed at the end, or finished abruptly with a small knot in the middle of the sentence.
It was hard not being able to tell her I got to play out the story lines she last knew I thought were written for me, relaying instead these adjacent narratives which popped up unexpectedly. That I was still in ministry, but… and I’m still baking, but…, and I’m still gathering in a small group, but… As she listened, her mouth grew taut, her head cocked to one side and her eyes narrowed slightly. Even though I didn’t express it, she felt the disappointment embroidered in my words while she ran her fingers over the sentences in her mind. She heaved a deep sigh before wrapping her arms around me. I assured her this was fine, but acknowledged it isn’t what I wanted.
At first, her sympathy pulled me into myself. It made me start asking, “is my story still good, even if it’s not what I wanted?” I started thinking of the friends who have gotten to live out their dreams, and I felt envy and anger. Then I remembered the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” More often than not, when I review the story of my life, the unexpected and unwanted threads have been the most dynamic, the most fulfilling, and that which makes me exclaim, “Damn! That’s a good story!” So why was having my disappointment recognized creating such ugly feelings?
Traditionally speaking, Hope was defined for me as, “the anticipation of good things.” I could never stomach that understanding, as it was not my lived experience. To live in a space where I actively anticipated good things required denial of a heap of disappointment, and ignoring the grief in the unfinished, unproductive, and undone. It felt like that cartoon where the dog is in a bar which is on fire saying, “this is fine,” when reality was no where near fine. I didn’t understand how the Bible called Hope a “firm and secure anchor,” when it was flimsier than a cardboard box. I have since deconstructed this understanding and reconstructed something that actually has the heft to hold fast, but in a moment of experiencing sympathy, I had fallen back into my old understanding. I forgot true Hope is not void of disappointment and does not deny the reality of brokenness. It simply refuses to relinquish its power to Despair and believe the lie it will always be this way, and does not begin to actively self sabotage by applying its energy anticipating the Dreadful. By avoiding such, Hope remains secure in the confidence that the Story on a whole is good, even as it sits in ashes, and can experience gratitude for what is instead of speculating about what wasn’t.
Wherever you are planted, may you be empowered to bloom.
Wherever you are in the story, lean in and embody that role.
Whatever this chapter looks like, keep going. Keep showing up. Keep choosing life.
May your heart be full and may your confidence remain secure.