It is January 24, and my morning reading in Proverbs 24 led me to verse 14. It repeats what God says in the previous chapter, and it took me back twenty-six years.
I can still remember the day, the time, and the place. It was the twenty-third. I was on my morning walk, praying for those on my list and in my neighborhood, meditating on Proverbs, and wrestling with my future. Worrying might be more honest. I was in my early forties, and I was at a juncture. Or was it a dead-end? By now, things should have been sorted out.
I loved our home. It was like living in a park. My parents had just moved up from San Diego and discovered a home across the street. Our kids were 4 and 6, and excited to have their grandparents so close. We had an amazing group of friends, many of whom made up our church. Heather was a public school teacher, and I was a pastor, playing competitive tennis and doing some adjunct teaching. everything was great–but I was restless. Sleepless. I was ready for a new chapter.
This happens, and I think it is natural. As Karen Prior puts it in her wonderful book, On Reading Well, “To be human is to be ‘in the state of being on the way.’” To flourish is to be on the move.
But I was stuck, and I was beginning to wonder about my future. Would there be one? And then, on that morning walk, I heard from God—
“There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18).
It wasn’t as if God laid out my future in that instance. I did not suddenly fall in a trance and see a global map. I just knew, in no uncertain terms, that a quiet confidence was filling in the void. God had given me one of his greatest gifts—hope. And that matters, for—as Prior puts it—“Hope is the virtue of the wayfarer.” Hopelessness is the burden of the one who is stuck.
Maybe you are there. You are hoping for a mate, or waiting for your ship to come in, or longing for some relief from a long illness, or praying a son or daughter might find one’s way. When hope is stretched out and postponed, life gets out of sorts. A slow fatigue sets in. The sage puts it this way: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (13:12).
In her book, Prior unpacks both hope and hopelessness. She notes that there are two kinds of hopelessness: presumption and despair. Presumption assumes that one’s hope will be fulfilled (I just know I will hear from them today). This is dangerous, especially when expectations become obsessions. I am well acquainted with these. The second kind of hopelessness is despair. Despair assumes that one’s hopes will never be fulfilled (I am pretty sure I am forgotten. I am not certain I am valued for who I am anymore). This was something I was feeling that day on my morning walk. Such feelings still stand at the door, ever hoping to be invited back.
I am pretty sure you resonate. I sense a growing disillusionment, a sense of despair, especially in my generation. Our country seems to have gotten off the rails; in the world of fake news, everyone seems to be posturing and virtue-signaling; the stock market is one huge roller coaster; the technological revolution might soon push billions of humans out of the job market and into a massive “useless class;” entering the third third can be disorienting; the church is becoming more and more politicized; the local news reminds me regularly that the big one is coming, and no amount of earthquake insurance will help; and the price of Papa Murphy’s pizzas might be going up.
Wow, that sounds bleak. But not if we are listening to the voice that really matters. Amidst it all, God is still serving up hope, the sort that transcends human hope. It is a gift. Receiving it, however, comes with a cost. It requires “an implicit surrender to the help of another—God.” This is how Prior puts it. It is the daily practice of acknowledging my limitations and reorienting my life to the thing that really matters—God’s will. It is the regular habit of reckoning with reality.
Some of my hopes, it turns out, are too small and too earthbound; others are fantasies that need to be given over and buried. It’s the unrealities that lead to hopelessness. True hope rests on things that are certain, and here are three that are rock solid—
-God is none other than wise in everything he wills
-God is none other than good in everything he does
-God is none other than almighty in everything he determines.
How true it is, especially in the third third, my friend