I was asked to light the first Advent candle at church today, and speak a little bit about what I’m learning about hope. It was one of the hardest things I’ve tried to write lately, eluding me for many hours last night and this morning. I finally completed my draft at 8:30 this morning, 10 minutes before I had to leave for church (and then forgot to print it). Though I was absolutely terrified to speak–the most scared I’ve been in months–somehow God used these words, and I am grateful. Some asked for it to be posted, so here it is in its entirety (sorry, Dad).
My name is Sara Kelm, and I’ve been attending NFC for over a year now. I work in a few different capacities over at the university, and one of those capacities is teaching in the English department. I’ve always been someone who learns best through stories, whether they’re on television, in books, or in my own head.
That’s why I understand when the poet Emily Dickinson called hope “the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul.” Perhaps I’m reading into it, but I think Emily knew my kind of hope: the anxious, nervous kind that hops around your belly, tickling your inside with its feathers.
To me, hope is a basketball in midair, arching its way toward the basket. I have been to my fair share of basketball games with an athletic brother and a father who was in a church basketball league. When I was little, I sat in the corner of the church gym, reading. Dad would call out from the court, “Sara, this one’s for you,” and shoot the ball at the basket. I’d look up and for a few seconds, I held my breath and I waited. My heart fluttered with hope as the ball left his hands.
This is why hope makes me anxious: the lack of control, the anticipation, and the trust. These things make hope beautiful, but they also make it scary.
When I’m hoping, I’ve often done all I can to accomplish something, but I realize it is out of my hands. The basketball has been launched toward the target and all I have left is that thing with feathers jumping in my stomach. I have given everything else away, and now I hope.
And I wait. Embedded within hope is expectation, anticipation. I can see something on the horizon, but it’s not here yet. That thing with feathers makes me believe it’s coming, but the waiting can be painful, whether it’s a few moments that seem like a lifetime or years that seem like an eternity.
Hope also trusts. Giving up control means I have to trust someone else has it. My trust in my father as a basketball star was somewhat misplaced, as his enthusiastic shots bounced out of the basket more than they went in (I feel like my father would want me to tell you this may be exaggeration for effect…though I’m not certain about that). Placing your hope on another human being is often dangerous, but it can also feel dangerous when your hope is placed on God.
Because sometimes God has different ideas about how and when things will carry out. I am really good at creating stories in my head of how the good things that God has promised me will happen: a particular job, a particular spouse, a particular moment. And I hope for it, because I think and learn through stories.
But God is a God of infinite goodness who is larger than the stories in my head, and sometimes he dashes my hopes, because they’re too small. I rarely realize it at the time, and instead I sob and hurt and rage. All I had in my hands was hope, and it was taken from me.
I’m sure Mary was filled with hope from the time she heard she would be entrusted with God’s Son to deliver and care for. In those nine months of waiting, she likely imagined every scenario of how her son would save his people from their sins and she hoped with great joy. Thirty years later, when she watched him up on the cross, her hopes were probably dashed, crushed beyond recognition.
But God knew the greater story, and so if our hope is based on trust in God and the ability to be patient, giving up all control, then we will hope for his story. This kind of hope is less a fluttery thing, but more an undercurrent that flows through our lives. That is why in Hebrews, hope is described as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” that “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.” Our hope approaches God for us; it intercedes on our behalf. In that way, it’s like a prayer.
So when I say, I hope your father recovers, I mean I am waiting for God to move in your father’s body.
When I say I hope you get that job, I mean I am waiting for God to provide for your every need.
When I say I hope he loves you too, I mean I am waiting for you to realize the beauty and power God has instilled in you.
As a Christ-lover, I am called to live in the in-between, as the basketball arches toward the basket, to live without control, to live with trust, to live in anticipation of God accomplishing all he has promised. It will often be in ways I don’t expect.
Romans 8: 23-25—“we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”