I live in a privileged world. In my social circles, people are generally beautiful, highly educated, financially sound, physically healthy, and very well-connected. We have the ability to get most material items we want (homes, cars, expensive kitchen appliances…or whatever…), send our kids to private schools, and take girls’ weekends to New York or the Caribbean. When we’re sick, we get treatment, no matter the cost. If we happen to fall into a financial slump, we can get help from family coffers or live off credit cards until our financial state (inevitably) gets better.
It’s a lovely life. But it puts us in a whole different category of poverty.
I was talking recently with a dear friend about a well-known Bible verse:
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Do you know, my conversation with that friend was the first time I had ever realized that hope is as weighty and important as faith?
Therein lies our poverty. Having everything we could need or want, we have no reason to need hope. When we can’t get something we want (marriage, babies, the job of our dreams, a loved one back who is gone forever), we can just distract ourselves with lots of other stuff. We can put on a mask of perfectionism, of “I have it all together,” and tell ourselves and everyone else that we’re just fine.
This is not a new concept to many of us, especially for those of us who are familiar with Tim Keller. Yes, yes, we know we shouldn’t idolize that which is not God; we know we should look to Jesus when we’re frustrated or sad; we’re educated people with educated pastors, so we know these things.
But we don’t really know them, deep down in the gut, the way a woman intimately knows her husband, the way an oppressed person knows her need for redemption.
Nor, quite honestly, do most of us care that we don’t know our need so experientially. We’d far rather feel like we’re in control than acknowledge the gut-wrenching longing that drives us to hope. We’d much prefer to avoid pain or suffering at all costs, even if it means missing out on glorious soul riches.
I know all this because it’s my own story.
The end of my rope of self-satisfaction came right about the time my husband and I started dating. In my early 30s, it dawned on me that maybe my “little” issues were actually big – so big, in fact, that I needed help to figure out how to find healing. It was a blow to my pride, but I started going to see a counselor.
When you start going to counseling, if the counselor’s any good, it’s like going to the gynecologist: they gonna be all up in yo biz-ness. The most painful places will be pressed and prodded, and it is acutely uncomfortable.
But also like going to see a doctor, the goal is healing – freedom from the things that are hindering you from living a full life in Christ. The best counselor will be someone who clearly enjoys you – someone who still thinks, after hearing your deep dark secrets, that you’re pretty awesome.
Of course, you can do this process if you have mature and godly friends or mentors and the bravery to share what’s dark in your soul. But counselors exist because we have the money and social skills to masterfully hide our human condition of hopelessness, unlike our brothers and sisters in the human race whose more material poverty shouts their need for hope. A counselor’s job is to reveal and explore the places where you need the most hope.
We privileged people hate to expose such “weakness” in ourselves – to our detriment and the detriment of those around us. It makes us dishonest, destructive, isolated, and immature, even while we long to be just the opposite of all those things.
As a result of seeing a fantastic counselor, I s l o w l y inched my way towards acknowledging my longings – to be loved by God and others, for authenticity with myself about who I am (and am not), for freedom to be myself with other people.
But once you acknowledge your longings, then you have to sit with them. Not just at the cafeteria lunch table, but all.the.time. When you’re not practiced in this discipline (and I was not), it is excruciating. Acknowledging your longings is not the action that produces hope. It’s just the first step. And it’s both terribly painful and also incredibly freeing.
It’s not like as soon as you acknowledge what you long for, then those longings are satisfied. Sometimes they are; more often, there is a further process of repentance, change, and growth that must occur. For me, counseling was combined with a healthy dating relationship (exciting but relationally scary for me!), a weekend of healing prayer, and several months of forced rest. The process of acknowledging your need for hope may look quite different for you.
Romans 5 says that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope doesn’t put us to shame, because God has poured out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
That’s an awfully long chain to get to one of the three most important values in the Bible. Does it really have to start with suffering? With suffering that goes on so long that we become people who endure it? With suffering that goes on so long that, enduring, our very character is forged in the fire – the kind of character that hopes in the midst of suffering?
Is hope worth it???
Yes. At least, hope in God’s love that’s been poured out on us through His Spirit is worth it.
I don’t want to put a nice Jesus-bow on my post so we can all move along happy. There are still days that are very hard. But I can tell you unequivocally that knowing, deep down in my gut, that God not just loves me but delights in me has put me on a path of hope where fear is no longer my overarching governor. I have a long way to grow yet in this knowledge, but I can honestly say that hope – even though it means longings are yet unfulfilled – is joyful leaps better than the life of trying to cover up my need for hope.