I am at the river again.
For a long time it’s been a place of refuge, especially in the summer. Perhaps it is even more now, while I’m waiting for many of the knowns in my life to evaporate–it’s comforting to slip under the familiar weight of the summer air. The humidity falls over us, sparing no one; to a lot of people here in the deep South, it’s stifling. Come August, especially the Augusts that have seen me trekking across campus with a book bag, I take to sighing at the sun and await the cool breezes that fall lavishes. But in June and July, when I have so much more free time, I find myself relishing that humidity, that weight that does not hem me so much as it tucks around me. It does weigh heavy on my lungs when I take to the path by the river, running toward and away from things at the same time, sometimes pausing to capture the way the sun does its thing with the water. But even when I’m running, or, if we’re being honest, struggling to run and mostly walking, my head is getting along somewhere else, which is why I sometimes run right into revelation when I’m at the river.
I am at the river, and somewhere, out of nowhere or out of everywhere, I hear it: “Unswerving hope,” He says to me. It’s so clear, so loud, so audible even despite the song tempering my steps, that I stop, abruptly enough that I cause other river runners to glance my way. I stop, and I stare at the sun. I feel the words settle on me, and instead of providing reassurance, they make me a little angry. “Hope?” I say, at the sun. “Hope,” I hear. I can’t think fast enough to even try to quell the hot spring of tears that fills my eyes. I whisper up to the sky, “All you have is hope?” And I present my grievances.
Hope is not direction.
Hope is not tangible. Hope does not fit in my hands or my suitcase, and I definitely cannot hang hope on my wall.
Hope is not a Facebook status announcing where I’m going.
Hope does not pay my bills or give me a place to live.
Hope is just hope.
And yet, it is the word laid on me so squarely that it makes the June humidity feel light. Moreover, the adjective that accompanies it–this unswerving business–drops right alongside it like they’re a team, like hope isn’t hope unless it’s unswerving. I squint-glare at the sun again. I lean over, hands on knees, panting. I consider hope.
This is what I’ve come up with, since that day at the river: Hope. It’s been a couple of weeks since I started carrying it around, turning it over, examining it on all sides. It seems so trivial, so trite. I consider my own world, and it seems like the inside of a greeting card: “Hope!” I consider the worlds of others–the ones that make mine look like a permanent vacation somewhere where people always want to offer you back massages–and I wonder how I would ever be able to offer it up to them: “Hope?”
But I let God do His thing with me. If you know me in real life, you know that I am not one to get things the first or the second or the 14th time around. I take my time. I coax my heart. I offer rebuttals with raised eyebrows. But once I venture to the other side, I stay there, throwing heart and mind and strength and soul into whatever believing I’ll need to do. The excellent thing about this is that my good God gets it about me, and He works with me. He kept speaking it to me, calling to mind this unswerving hope. I began to listen.
He told me this: Hope, my darling, is no trite last resort. It is not a band-aid or a sympathy card, not a second option or a once-you-feel-like-it suggestion. It is a command: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). It’s no halfway sort of thing either; half-hoping, He reasoned, is not hoping. This is where the unswerving bit becomes useful: You hope like the rising sun. You hope because this is the thing that brings life, the foundation on which promises are called fulfilled. You hope because He who promises is faithful.
I’m still learning about this hope and what it can do. We like to talk about the word love, asking how we can love our mothers and pizza using the same word. I’d like to submit that same query about our hoping: I do hope that the barista of this Starbucks brings over a free scone, and I hope in all of the things the Lord has promised me for my future. Is this the same hope? Are scone dreams worthy of hope? Can we stop tying the bow of hope around things unless we’re prepared to hope unswervingly?
Hope, He says to me; it’s a charge, a command, and you’d better believe, a challenge. It’s like running in the Southern humidity, the way you push against all of the things that tell you to stop. The way you stare at the sun and know that even once it slips down over the edge of those trees, it will sleep for the night but return in the morning. He’s teaching me to hope because He is faithful, to hope the way he’s also commanded me to love: without reservation. No hoping just enough to get me along; no hoping with disclaimers. He’s taught me that it’s alright to settle in my heart that my plan may not be His plan, and that I can hope for all things with that understanding, but that I cannot let that be a cover for wimpy hope, hope that doesn’t believe.
So this is what I give to you–not a stale, used-up word, but one that changes everything: Hope. May you wake up in the morning and get it into your soul. May you stare in the reality of unemployment, failure, infertility, divorce, your very broken heart, death, drug abuse, fear–may you look them full in the face and may you speak the words that will teach you how to live again: “As for me, I will always have hope” (Psalm 71:14).
Don’t do this because I am telling you to; don’t do it because it sounds like a nice thing to do. Don’t do it unless you are ready to hold to your hope unswervingly, even when the world insists it’s fruitless and silly. Don’t do it halfway, hoping like you fold clothes, just well enough to say you did it. And don’t hope unless you’re ready: ready to be free, ready to go where He calls, ready to receive the things your hope calls into action.
But when you hope, hope like it’s going out of style. Hope like the rising sun. Hope because it alerts your heart to watch for the grace and glory. Hope unswervingly, your knuckles so white from holding on and your hands open ready to receive at the same time.
Hope, for He who promises is faithful.