I met someone recently who had lost her daughter. She told me about a visit she once had with her doctor. While talking about her emotional well being, this woman told her doctor she was struggling a bit. The doctor said something to the effect of “you need the healing power of Jesus Christ in your life.”
Guess what she didn’t seek?
. . .
The meaning of names is a big thing in our family. Both mine and my husbands names have meanings that have each hinted about who we were and what we were doing here. We wanted to give our kids the same gift. We named our youngest Eleanor because we were smitten with the name itself and because it meant “shining light.” How great is that? Her middle name is Hope. For a while, I wasn’t on board with the middle name choice. My husband kept saying “I want to name her Hope. Hope is the greatest gift we’ve been given on this earth. There’s nothing better.” And I was always like “You think? What does that even mean? I don’t know about that.”
Around this time I happened upon Emily Dickinson’s famous poem:
Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune
without the words
and never stops
This little string of sentences brought hope to life for me. Hope did do that. When we don’t have the words, it gives us the tune. And all of a sudden, there’s melody where there was once silence, however faint. And it never stops, at all. How great is that? I thought.
“We’ll name her Ellie Hope” I told Jeremy.
I thought hope was amazing even though I was still thinking about it in the everyday sense. The way a new doctor with different ideas and methods might give a woman hope for a baby after not being able to get pregnant for five years. That kind of hope. Good for sure, but I hadn’t yet started to contemplate hope in the eternal sense. That is, hope as the gift that Jesus brought to the world. I knew my husband was thinking of that when he suggested the name in the first place. I knew about this kind of thing intellectually of course, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. Which is to say, I didn’t actually know.
. . .
The other night I had a dream. The night before, Jeremy had shown me a picture of Drew, a boy in Olivia’s class that had passed away last Thanksgiving. In the picture he was smiling for the camera on his mothers lap. Precious, beautiful boy he was. Jeremy said “I can’t imagine the sorrow his mom has to walk through everyday.” I always shut thoughts like this down real quick, or else they’ll destroy me right there on the spot. I won’t recover. I’ll end up a ball of worry, sadness and tears in my bedroom if I let the thought settle in past the first layer of my skin. I know this because I do let it settle sometimes. I do it intentionally. I let my heart break wide open in solidarity with the mothers and I pray on their behalf, mostly for comfort and peace. It’s just I don’t tend to do this when I am in the middle of making dinner like I had been this time. It stays with me though, even when I shut the sadness down quickly.
Then, I had my dream. In my dream, I was looking at Eleanor’s picture on my refrigerator and I knew she was gone. Sorrow settled deep in my chest as I thought about never being able to hold her again…
Until heaven anyway, I added.
In my dream, I felt an epiphany of sorts. The words “until heaven” changed the way the dream felt to me. It wasn’t that anything dramatic happened. My sorrow did not leave me. But I think it was the moment when what I knew intellectually became what I actually knew. Because there was only sorrow the moment before, and then there was hope. A tune began to play. The dream played out a bit more and I despaired at having to walk with this tremendous loss for the rest of my life. The hope did not change that. But it did give me a sliver of thanksgiving amid my grief. When I woke up, groggy in the land of half-asleep half-awake, It occurred to me I had been dreaming. The sorrow was heavy on my chest. I could feel the weight of it, and then with the realization it was just a dream, relief blanketed me. I could breathe. And the breathing was easy. And then immediately, my thoughts went to Drew’s mom and the woman who had been to the doctors office. They hadn’t woken up to relief.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t FAIR. I raged that a mother or father anywhere would have to walk the rest of their days grieving the loss of their precious child. I found myself praying for them before I opened my eyes that morning. I prayed for the usual peace and comfort, and then I gave thanks that even in the midst of our greatest despair, God created a way to comfort us beyond what I had been praying—with the hope of Heaven.
THAT’S why hope is so important. That’s why Christians fall on their faces in thanks to Jesus because that’s why he died. He died so that we could have new life after we die. Specifically, life with those we also love here. So that it doesn’t have to end and we’d get to see our beloveds again. That’s what it meant when I’d read the famous John 3:16 passage as a child, “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son…”
God loved us so, that he gave us a gift. A gift that cost the life of his own Son. The best possible gift ever—to not have to say goodbye for good—but only goodbye for now.
That’s what the doctor was trying to tell the woman, I’m sure. He just really sucked at his delivery. And the timing was all wrong. Not to mention, I don’t think he was ever going to be the person able to give hope. Not then. Not like that. People muck this up all the time. We can be really insensitive about it and not even know. We can bust out with weird “you need the healing power of Jesus Christ” for people who are hurting in a way that we aren’t at the moment, who are not a part of Christian culture or accustomed to this kind of thing, and not realize it’s off putting. Not realize we are not offering the comfort or hope they so desperately need.
I think the hope of heaven can only be truly received if it’s shared out of trust that already exists in a relationship. Otherwise, I’m not sure it can have any weight or meaning. A doctor you see once a year who busts out with strange “Christianese” isn’t going to cut it. If we, the Christians, need years to cultivate trust and knowledge of who God is, then might I suggest so do other people? If we need years to get to place where we can believe God is good and He really does love us then, might I suggest, so do other people? And if we need somebody who we trust to share God with us, then might I suggest, that’s who they need too?
I think our job as acquaintances and strangers, is to be the light. The shining light. Just like my little Ellie Hope. Always shining, never hiding, always learning from the marginalized, always inviting but never insisting or “should-ing” or thinking we are better than, but just shining on in the darkness.
. . .
There’s a scene in The Hunger Games where President Snow is talking to the Game Maker, Seneca Crane. If you don’t know the Hunger Games—-OMG, WHO ARE YOU?! FIX IT NOW!—I feel sorry for you. I do.
Anyway, President Snow in all his cold, power hungry callousness asks the Game Maker, “why do you think we have a winner?”
Seneca is confused, “what do you mean?” he asks.
“I mean, why. Do we have. A winner?” he repeats it, heavy. “I mean, if we just wanted to intimidate the districts, why not round up 24 of them at random and execute them all at once? It would be a lot faster.”
Seneca looks at him to say he doesn’t know. He’s never thought about it before. President Snow dips his head down, looks Seneca in the eyes and says “Hope.”
Seneca repeats “Hope?”
“Hope. it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective…A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine. As long as it’s contained.”
Seneca answers “so?” searching for what President Snow wants him to do next.
“So. Contain IT” President Snow directs.
President Snow is the dark force in The Hunger Games. A little hope is effective, he’ll permit it. A lot of hope is dangerous. Dangerous for him because he needs people to be afraid in order to retain power.
The darkness wants you afraid. A little hope is allowed so you don’t rebel or dare to seek more. It’s contained.
The light wants you to live without limit. It offers hope abounding, even after death. Hope. The only thing stronger than fear.
We’re invited to dare to believe it’s true. But of course, I know it’s not that easy. I can make it sound tidy here in an essay but we all know it’s messier than that.
You must test and see that God is good. I get it.
You must find a way to believe that Heaven is real. I know.
Must you now believe just the right thing about Jesus? Yikes. That seems complicated.
Is any of this real?
Uh, huh. You are not original in your Charlie Foxtrot, okay?
Everyone grapples with this.
Well, most everyone. I guess what I’d say is that, it’s allowed. It’s all part of it. What’s more, I figure God already knows I grapple and doubt and try to prove and…and…and…So I don’t need to try and hide it from Him. I figure he wants the real me. Not the me pretending to have it all figured out or hiding behind pat answers I’m actually skeptical of.
If you want to skip ahead of all these questions, which you probably won’t be able to do, but let’s pretend you could— I can tell you how it ends.
God shows you He is good. Then, you start to believe Him when He says He loved us so much that he sent his Son so that we might be reunited with Him and those we love after death.
This is where you end up.
I mean, first you’ll be confused by old testament God stuff and then absolutely shocked to learn that Jesus seems a little harder and opinionated than you imagined.
Then you’ll go off on weird tangents and particulars in your faith and get all distracted. For example, Jesus not being all love bombs and rainbows confused me because he didn’t turn out to be what I expected. Because of this, for a while, I wondered if I could just deal with God and not figure out the whole Jesus thing. The Jesus part is what gets everybody uncomfortable anyway. God rarely does, you know. Most people accept there is a God even if they use a different word for it. It occurred to me at a certain point during this exploration, that without Jesus there is no Christianity, so my approach wasn’t going to work. Then mercifully, I realized it was the organized religion part of Christianity with their declarations of who-is-in and who-is-out that makes me uncomfortable, not actually Jesus.
So, phew! Dodged that bullet.
It get complicated, okay? This is what you have to know. What I’ve learned though, is that for the most part, anything that confuses me is usually due to my own lack of understanding or context in some area. And so I keep learning until things smooth out and make sense to me. If I chase my questions long enough, I don’t usually get answers, but I do get brought back to the heart of God and Jesus—a soft place to land. But before this, I get all bound up over an issue of the times, conflicted and worried. Then eventually, I remember God is just there. Not waiting for me to figure it out perfectly but rather, just delighting that my heart is after Him and his goodness in the first place. And then I can breathe again.
Forgetting-conflict-worry-remembering-grace-hope. This is my way. But regardless of how many times I go through this spin cycle, one thing is certain.
Hope in abundance is on the other side.
Which is Good News. I was tired of being contained and afraid.