If “hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul”, as poet Emily Dickinson says, then there’s plenty of hope fluttering around my yard these early spring days. Some of this hope has tried to build a nest in the wreath on my front door, which of course I cannot allow because it means bird poop and feathers and bugs all over the porch. So I have chased the hope away, removing its chances of settling in.
Which I do often.
I’ve been needing God to clarify some things for me. One recent day, in another attempt to get Him to talk, my relentless barrage of questions produced nothing but silence, and so I found myself lying in a dark room in the middle of the afternoon because I didn’t have the energy to pray anymore, or go to Life Groups at church that evening, or even text a friend. Right then human contact felt like sandpaper scraped across a bare knuckle. And hope, in that dark room – reassurance that He heard me – tried to fly away.
There’s a reason darkness is a good symbol for despair. When we can’t see our way, when there’s not enough light shining, we forget what broad daylight looks like. I am convinced that too many gray days in a row would cause us to think the sun was never going to shine again. When we can’t see our way clear, we forget there’s a way out.
I don’t want to be a person who forgets the light, though. When I was lying in the darkness, one tiny thought, like the birds on my porch that refuse to be driven away, nagged me: Even if I stopped holding onto Jesus, He would still hold onto me.
The beginnings of something that looked like hope began stirring. A few days later I came upon Paul’s description of suffering and hope in Romans 5. Paul states the obvious: we all have trials. But he tells us to hang in there. If we can just hang in there, or simply let Jesus hang onto us, we find that this stubborn refusal to let go, a.k.a. perseverance, begins to shape our character. And then, our strength of character produces hope. It’s funny that hope comes at the end of the process; it seems to me that hope would be the catalyst to get us through our hard times.
Perhaps it’s because we have a choice to make: whether to believe that God is working all things for good, or not. If I can choose to believe He is, even when I can’t hear or see Him working, then I usher in the possibility for hope. In Romans 5:5 Paul gives a final thrust to his argument: our hope is reasonable, he says, because it will not kataischunei: disappoint us or put us to shame. Our hope, even in the face of suffering, is reasonable because it is grounded in the love of God, which “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Hope grounded in love… Sometimes on these early spring mornings, I am awakened from the bits of birdsong filtering through the dark windows. I hear the birds even though I can’t see them. And as the light slowly sifts through the blinds, the birds come closer and their songs get louder. Songs that sound a lot like hope rising.