In late December of last year, I decided to do away with New Year’s resolutions and instead chose a word to act as a theme for 2016. A local church I knew of had corporately encouraged their attendees to ask God for a “Word of the Year” in order to bring a sense of focus to the year ahead.
My life seemed pretty steady at the time so I was having trouble choosing a word. I was ready to give up and go back to making a resolution that I would probably also give up on, when I came across this passage in Romans:
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.” (Romans 5:3-5)
That last sentence stuck with me: “Hope does not put us to shame.”
Despite my flowery season of life, I could definitely resonate with feeling shame. Who couldn’t? And here I was being offered the antidote. It seemed fitting. So, I mulled over the verse for a few weeks and finally decided on my word: hope.
A few weeks later I got a phone call from my mom. “I went to the doctor today and they found something. They think it’s a tumor, but it might not be. We’re waiting for the results to come back.” My brain involuntarily raced to the worst case scenario. I cringed at the thought of losing my mom and shut down any thoughts offering death as an option. “The tumor could be benign, right?” She humored me, “Yeah.”
The results were in: stage 3 cancer.
There were a few options in moving forward, but operating wasn’t one of them and before I knew it, my mom was in full-on treatment receiving chemotherapy and radiation multiple times each week.
The relationship between suffering and hope
February rolled around and I got a phone call from my dad. “It’s about your grandma. She passed away earlier tonight.” His voice and everything around me blurred together.
She hadn’t been doing well, but my refusal to accept the possibility of the worst made the news come as a shock. I did my best to carry on and allow myself to mourn with my family, but as I did I couldn’t help but think, “You know, for a girl who just claimed hope over her year, things sure seem to be getting fairly hopeless.”
I tried very hard not to think about death throughout my mom’s treatment, but then my grandma died right in the middle of it all and death seemed pretty unavoidable. The questions surrounding life, death, sickness and healing would swirl around my mind and paralyze me from doing much else. I couldn’t even remember why I had chosen hope to be my word in the first place, so I turned back to the original passage:
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.”
As I reread that verse something became clear to me. I had claimed hope and was immediately met with suffering. Suddenly, the verse was not only a promise but an equation:
Suffering = Perseverance = Character = Hope.
Suffering = Hope. Right? Yikes.
Hope was transforming from some virtue I wanted to obtain into a journey the Lord was taking me on. Of course God didn’t want me to suffer, but each trial gave me endurance and endurance was building character in me. As I thought more about this it made more sense. How could I possibly know how strong I am without lifting anything heavier than I’m used to lifting?
Opportunities for hope
Every time I felt hard pressed I would see God right beside me, coaching me, adding more and more weight because He knew what I was capable of doing. I’ve seen God allow life to press itself against a person not to break them, but to make them stronger, to give them hope.
From there on out, each trial throughout my mom’s treatment seemed like an opportunity to believe in God in the same way He had been believing in me. I began to realize that what I was going through was not in vain, and soon enough realized hope had become a vehicle for me to pray for my mom throughout treatment. And as I prayed I saw God show up in every area of my life. He was not only healing my mom, but giving me a renewed character too—making me compassionate and joyful.
Summer was in full swing when my mom’s treatment came to an end. She and the doctors did everything they could do; it either worked or it didn’t and we would go from there.
The results came in: cancer free.
There’s no expectable way to react when you receive news like that. I was dumbfounded, elated, relieved and also amazed that God used the process to give me hope.
You see, hope is an idea of what’s possible.
It is the thing casting the vision that faith can attach itself to. I’m not sure I would have had faith in God to heal my mom because I didn’t know it was possible, until God brought me through a journey to give me hope.
I was having coffee with a friend recently who was going through a hard time. She looked down into her cup and sighed, “I just don’t get why God doesn’t answer our prayers right away.”
I think my generation gets frustrated with God because He doesn’t work within the confines of how we run things. We have Amazon Prime Now and On Demand everything and pray like we’re ordering Postmates. When God doesn’t immediately give us what we ask for, we’re tempted to believe He doesn’t answer prayer or isn’t that He isn’t good—sometimes both.
But perhaps when we pray we should expect to be taken on a journey instead of given something on demand. Sure, God wants to give us food when we’re hungry, but what if He wants to teach us to sow and harvest along the way? It doesn’t make sense to pray for hope and receive suffering, but God invites us into the process because He knows what it produces.