As an expressive person, I have struggled with raw emotions and what the Christian does with them. Are we less Christian for having negative and inconvenient emotions such as fear, doubt, hopelessness or despair? Is it acceptable to process emotions such as these before arriving at the peace and hopefulness we are expected to have? Are we supposed to “snap out of it” sooner than non-believers? What does hope do for us and how does it affect us?
We need hope in our daily lives because life can be difficult, especially when we are confronted with a problem where hope is essential to get us through it. This was especially true for me in January 2011 when I faced the possibility of breast cancer. After finding a lump in my breast, I traveled a path that required numerous tests, invasive procedures and operations. I was forced to make decisions that I never thought I would have to make, decisions that launched me on a rollercoaster of emotions. There were days when I definitely “bought the ticket” for the ride, and then there were days when I was amazed at the level of peace and strength I possessed.
As I wrestled with fear for myself and my family, not knowing what the future would hold and with my hope waning, I wrote a personal lamentation to our Lord:
Why have I entertained darkness
when you are my light?
Why do I fear when you are my Savior?
How do I do your will
when I am hesitant to be willing
to go to places I do not choose?
Oh, how this world confuses me!
I want to be your servant.
How am I doing?
I love those you blessed me with,
but you love them more!
Please hold them in your hand.
Keep me strong and faithful
for those who love me.
May they draw near to you.
I bargain with you as I consider:
If harm shall befall us,
let it befall me
so you may keep them from harm.
I thank you for your saints
that you’ve gathered around me.
You find ways to show me
and tell me that you are here.
I hear you, my Shepherd!
I know your voice;
you fill my heart with joy!
You dispel my fear.
Make me bold, Lord,
my faith is in you.
You are good,
loving and true.
Your light is in me.
You drive the darkness out of my mind.
My heart leaps with joy
that you are with me and are mine
all the days of my life.
You are my sustainer,
my healer, my provider.
May I remember your blessings
and rest in your faithfulness.
From the night I found the lump until after my bilateral mastectomy, I wrestled with deep emotions more fully than ever before. Processing them, however, was a more refined skill, a learned skill that came from a concerted effort in my walk with the Lord. Although normally an optimistic person by nature, the impact of facing breast cancer hampered my ability to be hopeful. Like many of us who find ourselves in those dark moments, I had difficulty finding hope as I tried to figure out what to do next. For me, it was an active mental decision, one that took me beyond a moment or a word, to a deliberate path. I questioned where I would get this hope. In whom or what was I placing my hope? As awful as hopelessness is, is it any better to hope in something that might not or cannot be delivered?
The answer to these questions finally came to me and eventually I went from “no hope” to “know hope.” But how I got there was less about my choice and more about my knowledge and reflection of who I know God to be. He is a God of mercy, love and kindness. He walks beside me and always watches over me, and this is the reason that I could begin to feel hope. I was no longer hoping for what I wanted, I was hoping in Jesus. I could do this because I could trust him.
By looking back at how God responded to various situations throughout my life and the lives of my family, I was now able to look to the future with hope—despite my circumstances. It wasn’t about a desire to be hopeful, it was rather about knowing in whom to place my hope.
My inevitable journey made me realize that I can still be human, but through it all, God’s Word is my level to help even out the daily ups and downs. It’s not some simple solution, or a spiritual Prozac that we can just swallow. What God says in his Word, who he is, and how he works through his Spirit and his people—this is what I cling to each day. It is what I need to make decisions, to change the way I look at a situation, to restore my feelings toward his people, and to help me to look at the future without dread or fear. By building a solid foundation with the Lord every day, I am building a foundation of hope, one that will carry me through the storms in life.
Why do I hope? I hope because when I hope in the Lord, it anchors me in my faith and in my daily life. I hope because it is a gift from God and I receive it every day as I focus on him, read his Word, talk to him, listen to him and really process what he is saying. I hope because of what I know, because of my relationship with the Lord, and because I find his words are true: “I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities” (Psalm 31:7, KJV).
“Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee” (Psalm 33:22, KJV).
Barb Dunn is the author of Whispers of Wisdom and a member of Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church in Succasunna, NJ.
Whispers of Wisdom – a personal reflection of journal entries, emails and prayers that create a chronological “flashback” of Barb’s “Journey with God – From Mammography to Mastectomy.”
(Available in softcover or e-book via Barnes and Noble.com, Amazon.com or Xulon Press.)