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What Do You Have to Say About Hope?

I’m starting to notice the semi-regular experience of having coffee with someone and having them pause at some point in the conversation and say, “Wait, this isn’t going to end up on your blog, is it?” I usually wince a little and say something, “Well, it might. But don’t worry, I’ll keep it anonymous.” Usually this is reassurance enough (and, rest assured that when it isn’t, it does not end up on my blog!). I can’t really help myself, though. I get to have a lot of great conversations with people, often about important and deeply meaningful questions that are basic to human experience. It seems a shame to not write about these moments, to widen the conversation, as it were. This is what I tell myself, at any rate.

I had coffee with a young adult this morning who expressed no such anxieties about where the broad themes of our conversation might end up, but I did clear what follows with them nonetheless. They were, in one sense, on a well-trodden path, one that many their age are familiar with. There are the familiar contours of uncertainty, of pain and loss and faith and doubt and wrestling with vocation and leaving and returning to the church and questions about the future and many other things besides. But, in another sense, their story, like all human stories, is utterly unique. They are asking and answering questions from the unique vantage point of their own lived experience, and in a very intentional way.

Near the end of our time together today, the conversation turned to hope. This person was seeking to thoughtfully, purposefully, and faithfully live into a hopeful future. They were going to be doing some traveling, reflecting, exploring, and praying into what, exactly, hope meant for them and those they cared about. And, toward that end, they were compiling a notebook full of reflections from others on what hope meant to those they encountered on their journey, whether friends and acquaintances or total strangers. “It’s fascinating to watch people respond when you ask them what they think about hope,” they said.  No doubt.

All of a sudden, the aforementioned notebook full of thoughts on hope appeared. I looked through it briefly. I saw hand-written notes, some poetry, some longer reflections, some short wishes. Then, after we had pondered this amazing artifact for a few moments, this person asked me, “Would you write something about hope in here? No rules or expectations or anything like that, just whatever comes to mind, stream-of-consciousness type stuff. What does hope mean to you?”

“You mean, like, right now?” I asked.

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

A thousand objections popped into my mind, most having to do mainly with my own pride and wanting time to produce something polished and theologically sophisticated, something I could check against the articulations of other smarter, more hopeful people, something I could make sure was worthy of seeing the light of day. But these objections rather quickly revealed themselves to be the small and self-protective things that they mostly were. There was a blank sheet of paper in front of me, and an inquisitive human being who was thinking deeply and carefully and deliberately about hope as an anchor for life. Could there really be any good reason not to pause for a few minutes and write down a few un-scripted words about this ? I didn’t think so.

So, I picked up the pen, apologized in advance for my handwriting, and scribbled out these words:

There is a reason that the proverb says, “Without hope, the people perish.” We humans are hard-wired for hope, I think, and are always stumbling toward some vision of wholeness and flourishing, goodness and peace, truth and beauty, even when we’re barely aware of it, often when we’re failing miserably at it.

To hope is to be alive. To hope is to keep moving. To hope is to believe that God is beckoning onward, toward our best selves and toward the better world that we have both the opportunity and the obligation to participate in bringing about.

To hope is to believe that what matters most to us will one day be validated and purified and rendered whole.

 To hope is to trust in the One who has placed hope within us and who daily summons us toward its consummation, our true home.

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