If I could choose one word that God is continually shaping in me, challenging me with, and defining my life by, it would be hope.
It’s a tricky concept. I first encountered it in my political science studies; politics and development is a bit of a depressing field. And then I ended up here…so I guess it’s all fitting.
I hold onto Romans 8 as if my life depends on it; because many days my faith does. I lean on the fact that I am no different from anyone else or anything else when I sense the groan for something different. I rest in the fact that we are waiting for our adoption as sons; that we are witnessing only the first fruits and this is actually bondage. I anticipate the fact that these sufferings will not even compare to the glory revealed, and that by nature & rule, I hope in what I cannot see.
This is where I am currently ruminating yet again: the idea of hoping for what I cannot see.
I was talking with a friend over lunch, discussing how we stay “balanced.” There is an equilibrium to be reached. On one side rests all the hopes for God to do incredible things here, rejoicing the little smiles and joys and relationships; celebrating the “successes.” The other side lies all the sorrows–fights and abusive relationships; death and sickness and suffering; poverty; human trafficking.
To state the obvious, we always fighting for equilibrium. I think this is why it’s so difficult, though: first, we work in a sad place. I think it’s safe to say the sadness is more prevalent than our lives previously, but also more likely to come to our front door–quite literally. When your goal is to reach out to the sad crevices of your little border town, you’re inevitably going to see it more. And then, most significantly, the sorrows are so tangible. They are so real. They are real people, real relationships, real blood, real hunger, real traffickers and those being trafficked. You can’t deny it when it’s right there in front of you, at your door.
The hopes, the joys that bring us to open our door day after day, they are less tangible. We hope that God is answering our prayers for our little house church each week. We hope that these relationships are bringing hope and change and goodness. We hope that marriages are healing and abuse is less and children’s futures are bright. We hope that love, trust, safety, goodness, grace, and peace surround us and this home and these relationships.
But we just don’t know. We innately can’t–because by definition we hope in what we cannot see. For hope that is seen is not hope.
So when I try to find my equilibrium, I’m dealing with these hopeful-can’t-be-seen bricks on one side and these very-real-very-messy bricks on the other.
Most days I do okay. Somehow hope comes out on top, as just a little taste of it being what it is: HOPE.
But I have noticed that once I question it–just the slightest, tiniest doubt that I am hoping for nothing–and one side comes tumbling down to nothing. If I couldn’t see them before, now they actually are absolutely nothing. And those messy realities win.
Perhaps a month ago, we were headed to the tea shop for our usual Sunday morning snacks & tea. As one of the women climbed out of the car at the market, she (and perhaps a few more) noticed that her zipper had split on her sarong. Just for a cultural context; you have a long sarong that you wrap around in front of you, and some of us “cheat” and get them sewn into a more proper skirt with a zipper. It is less risky for it falling off…until the zipper splits, I suppose. She was clearly embarrassed, as culturally this is a very, very big deal. I tried to search for a safety pin with no luck; I attempted a bobby pin, with clearly no luck (because it was an obviously bad idea). And then she resorted to carrying her friends little handbag on her hip to cover the spot.
It was awkward. Imagine having a button open on your shirt and carrying a small coin purse right in front of it to hide the gap, perhaps drawing more attention than if you just walked by with skin exposed.
A few minutes of this and I had another idea: my purse slings across my shoulder. While it generally hits her 4’10” frame at her knees, I could adjust it shorter to fit just over the split zipper.
I described my idea and we sorted it out on the side of the road while the other ladies blocked everyone’s view. And of course Stephen stood off to the side as if he didn’t know what was going on to make her feel the least uncomfortable.
Why do I tell you this story, in the midst of some jabber about hope?
Because I am holding on to this story, weeks later. She carried my purse all day; we giggled as we tried to communicate over the whole mess. Every time my phone would ring or buzz, we’d have to sort it out. Every time I needed money, she was required to know what i needed. We laughed and miscommunicated and stayed by each others’ side.
And it required trust in a new way: her trust for me to help her in an awkward situation, and my trust for her to have all of my valuables right by her side all day. We trusted each other.
I had hope for where these relationships might go and how God might use all the unseens bring such great glory to His name.
It’s a weird story. There are a lot of cultural implications that can’t be communicated. And maybe the idea that the day one of my neighbors’ skirts split was suddenly a deep connection point for us just seems odd to communicate. Almost as odd as the way I feel connected to the woman I helped to clean and shower after she was bloody and beaten up by her husband.
It’s not that we are living here waiting for weird situations, which might be what it looks like.
Instead, it’s trying to put tangibility into these complicated concepts of hope and trust and grace. Sometimes it feels like I am holding up these weird stories, trying to put a story, a feeling, or a moment of reality into so many unseen dreams and prayers and hopes.
Maybe it is a bit like the wind that we can’t see, but can see the effects of it (John 3:8). Or as Lu Xun wrote, “Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally, there is nothing–but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.”
As we go over the stories and the faces again and again; a path appears to show us the unseen hope that pushes us forward.