Hope Deferred

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- Kelly Powers

“It’s porch therapy.” This is what my friend declared of the evenings we spend lingering on my front porch, enjoying the arrival of summer, wrestling through the matters of our heart. It is a scared space where questions, joys, prayers, laments and hopes are spoken. And probably a dish of hummus and white wine are savored.

During our last porch session a group of women gathered, all in different stages of life…but all of us are single. So the conversation landed on dating. But it became so much more than that. Beyond the questions about on-line dating and when can a woman ask a guy out, we found ourselves wrestling with this…how do you live fully and faithfully in the face of your hopes being deferred?

For the past four years this question has been present in my life, after the unexpected death of my husband. Our life as a young couple, with fulfilling careers and dreams of starting a family was decimated. And while I have grieved and ached for my husband, my grief has also been for all of the hopes and plans we had before us. Traveling, babies, house projects, growing old together. So as I have walked (and sometimes stumbled) through my grief and healing, I have begun to reassembled myself. Parts of me are familiar. I’m still a good listener, find joy in offering hospitality to others, and love to dance. And there are new pieces of me. I’m a widow and therefore single, I am drawn even more to those who are broken, and my faith is full of more questions and honesty than ever before. But I haven’t known what to do with my hopes, those from the past and new ones emerging.  

So I ask God, sometimes with a quiet voice, other times with earnest pleas, how do I live well and with joy, even though I still carry so many unmet hopes?  

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I admit part of my agenda in this prayer was for God to reveal to me not how to live in the midst of these unmet hopes, but how to makes these hopes become a reality. I was trying to live out the idea that if I’m faithful enough, if I show God that I really want to honor Him, then all the things of my heart will be fulfilled. It’s when I took an honest look at my prayers that I discovered some truths about hope.

Hope is risky. To name what I really long for, exposes a part of my deepest self. And by exposing these hopes, it also requires me to accept the possibility that they may not be fulfilled. And what did God’s love for me mean if He wasn’t showing me favor? So you can see how true Proverb 13:12 “hope deferred makes the heart sick…” felt. Not willing to settle for this understanding of hope, I looked over my prayer again. This time instead of trying to figure out how to fulfill my unmet hopes, I explored what it would mean to live fully in God and embrace a redemptive view on hope.

While naming your hopes can make you feel exposed and vulnerable, it is also an invitation to speak of God’s kingdom. His original design of shalom, of wholeness still resides in our hopes. When we name our longings, we unveil pieces of God’s beautiful design that someday will be restored. So instead of feeling alone and foolish in these hopes, God joins us and say “Yes!”

Now we’re not always good with “someday”. The reality that our hopes may not be fulfilled challenges our need for control and our spirit of entitlement. This could lead us to a place of discontentment, envy, bitterness, or despair. But we don’t gain life or joy from lingering in these places. It is in this moment that I have chosen to direct my heart towards gratitude. This type of gratitude requires me to redefine my joys not according to the culture that I exist in, but according to a life God seeks for me. My joy is found not always in my circumstances but in the grace and mercy that is revealed daily. As I’ve established a stance of gratitude, it has given me endurance to continue to hope.

To really embrace a redemptive view on hope, I had to admit that I questioned God’s love and favor for me when my desires went unmet. It’s the question that severed us from God’s shalom in the garden, when Eve and Adam doubted His goodness for them. I began to wonder if what I was placing my hope in was actually hindering my communion with God. Even hopes that are full of good intentions can lead our hearts astray. As I explored through His word, God tells us to put our hope in Him first. Placing our hope in Christ first will shape in us life-giving desires and give us the grace to accept our delayed dreams.  

So if you find yourself wrestling with how to live a life that is full of joy and life in the face of disappointments may you find a safe space to name your dreams for they speak of God’s hope too. May you hold them loosely so you don’t neglect seeing God’s present grace in your days. And may you rest on the foundation that He is our first hope, upon which all our other longings should flow.

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Kelly currently calls Grand Rapids, MI her home where by day she works at Calvin College and at night she can be found lost in a book or wandering around town on her bike.  She earned a Masters of Counseling from Mars Hill Graduate School (now the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology) and dreams of retiring in the Pacific Northwest.  She explores the narrative of peoples lives through her counseling and her work as a photographer.  You can connect with her at http://www.kellypowersphotographyblog.com/