You’ve gone through an illness that’s had so many ups and downs, twists and turns, promising prospects followed by discouraging setbacks that the question Jesus asked a man who had been ill for a long while, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 6:6), has become a critical one for you. There have been times when you were just sick of being sick and felt that you’ll never be anything else. At every anticipated milestone, it seemed, there was some unexpected complication that you had to deal with. You started out thinking that you’d be treated and healed from your condition in the month of December. Well, now you speculate the cure might well be in place by December, but December a year later from when you originally thought you’d be back to full health! Being the “cancer victim” was becoming the new normal. In your heart, hope was battling resignation; sometimes just giving up seemed to be the more realistic option.
Now you recognize that underneath that searing question, ‘do you truly want to be made well?’ you’re essentially being asked, ‘Do you have any hope left?’ At last you’ve come to the point where you can say that you do have great hope. But it’s the kind of hope that’s more than just an optimistic view of things, something greater than naively believing that all your wishes will come true. You’re full of hope, and it’s because you’ve developed an abiding confidence in your future while letting go of all the details about getting there. You’ve learned to be hopeful without being specific.
You know now that once you’ve done all that’s required of you to get better, you then need to let go of your elaborate expectations of “OK, here’s what needs to happen next — here’s the wish list I’m pinning my happiness hopes on.” That’s not hope, that’s control, and it’s a sure path to disillusionment.
When people ask you about your prospects now, your answer invariably begins with enthusiasm and continues with caution. You tell people you’re confident that you’ll be well after all this, but you’ve given up on being able to predict exactly how you’ll get there. It’s a matter simply of trusting God’s persistent, sustaining love for you and then paying attention to how that loving/trusting relationship works out in your life. As Henri Nouwen put it: For the prayer of hope it is essential that there are no guarantees asked, no conditions posed, and no proofs demanded, only that you expect everything from the other without binding him. Hope is based on the premise that the other gives only what is good. Hope includes an openness by which you wait for the other to make his loving promise come true, even though you never know when, where or how this might happen. (Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands, Notre Dame, IN, Ave Maria Press, 1972, p. 73).
The last words Martin Luther penned before he died were: “We are beggars. That is true.” (Martin Luther, Table Talk, in Luther’s Works, vol. 54, Theodore G. Tappert ed.; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967, p. 476). When you truly hope, you do what you can and then, like a beggar, you relinquish control of insisting on the particulars of your life. And we are blind beggars at that, as blog reader Carlton Russell suggests, unable to trust in all that our over-eager eyes would want for us. You blindly beg while never giving up on the promise, to use Julian of Norwich’s words, that “all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.“ (Julian of Norwich, Showings, New York, Paulist Press, 1978) p.149).
Such great hope is founded on what we surely know but cannot yet fully imagine of God’s all-embracing love for us. St. Paul, speaking in the spirit of the prophet Isaiah put it: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” — these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-10) As Mark Dirksen, commenting on this essay adds, “our best imagined desired outcomes are shadows of what God, who has our very best interests at the center of His heart, would give us.”
True hope, then, means forever living in the paradox of being deeply assured of your life’s ultimate outcome and being constantly surprised by how you will finally get there!