basic advent, week one: we can hold hope
For a person who has based the bulk of her internal value system on this particular word for over a decade, hope and I have had a real reckoning of late. I named my first blog after hope. My favorite quotes were about hope. I have multiple pieces of jewelry engraved with hope. I got the word tattooed on my actual body. I was all in.
Over the past four years, during a proliferation of events which included significant trauma in my life and in our home, turning forty, relinquishing our foster care license, and sending my youngest child to school, the trauma of a decade of foster care that I had been suppressing under the guise of “hope” began to bubble to the surface. In some fairly unattractive ways, to be honest. Not feeling my feelings for that long took a toll. Several tried to encourage me with church-y and inspirational clichés - I’m sure you’re familiar…“All things work together for good.” “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” “God is in control.” - but my patience wore thin. Our paths had finally diverged, hope and I.
So what is one to do when hope seems lost? When darkness seems to be winning?
How do you hold hope in a world that continually tries to strip it from your hands?
The thing that comes to mind for me is one of my favorite Bible stories. The main character in this story is Moses, an Israelite who has been raised by an Egyptian princess but now is leading the nation of his birth in an escape from Egypt where they had been enslaved. They’re in the middle of a desert, migrating to the land they believed God had promised them when another nation comes to attack them. Apparently there are multiple days of fighting, and Moses tells them that for the next battle, he’s going to stand on the hillside with “God’s staff” to lead the fight. As Exodus records, when Moses lifted up his arms with the staff, the Israelites were winning the battle. When he lowers his arms, they begin to lose. But you know, he’s getting a little tired, and it becomes clear he didn’t exactly train for this all-day event.
That’s when his brother and another man come alongside him. Not only do they get Moses a stone to sit on, they hold up his arms for him. One on one side, one on the other, these two men hold up Moses’ arms the entire day until the sun goes down, and the Israelites win the battle.
I think that’s what it means to hold hope sometimes. It’s not that we can do it ourselves. It’s that people come alongside us and do it for us. I know for sure that’s what’s happened for me. It might not have looked like someone literally holding up my arms, but it has looked like a million little things that gave me the strength to go on when I felt like I couldn’t.
In a time where the trauma in my home threatened to overwhelm our family completely, it looked like friends coming to take home our dirty laundry and returning it cleaned and folded.
In a week where my grief and fear ran high, it looked a friend who texted multiple times just to see how I was doing.
In a season where darkness and evil conspired to take away all my illusions of making a difference in this world, it looked like a friend who sat across a table from me, listened to a truly awful story that I needed to just get out, and said “ME TOO.”
In a year where the stress of a pandemic and virtual school and quarantines have robbed me of some of my faith in humanity as well as a considerable amount of my sanity, it’s looked like a dozen different people: friends, family, therapists, acquaintances, and even strangers who step into my life and say: “You can do this. We can help.” They’ve sent books and texts. We’ve met on Zoom, and I even got one special weekend away. It’s been daily and weekly and sometimes just ONCE, but there’s a moment in every instance where I see the hope I’m struggling to obtain held out in their hands. They are holding hope for me.
I don’t know about you, but I often find it easier to hold hope for someone else than I do myself. It’s a strange little quirk that we’re often able to do for others what we’re unable to completely get a handle on ourselves, but I think that might be what makes us need one another after all. The Scripture I’m going to post below is a story about two pregnant women, the mother of Jesus and the mother of John the Baptist, both in the middle of a season where their life circumstances made it difficult to hold hope - Mary, as an unwed pregnant teenager, and Elizabeth, bearing a baby at an advanced maternal age alongside a husband with a serious disability - yet they hold hope for one another.
Just like Mary and Elizabeth, we spend this season waiting for the birth of a little baby that we call the Hope of the World, yet that same Bible that tells us about that little baby also says that the mystery of the Good News is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” We’re the hands and feet for each other here on this earth. Let’s hold hope, friends.
In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed! How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!”
And Mary said:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and his name is holy. His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him. He has done a mighty deed with his arm; he has scattered the proud because of the thoughts of their hearts; he has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he spoke to our ancestors.
And Mary stayed with her about three months; then she returned to her home.
Just two things to think about this week.
Who is holding hope for you today? Text them, send them a card, give them a call…tell them thank you. That’s it. Thank you is enough.
Who are you holding hope for? If no one comes to mind, think about who is around you that you might be a hope-holder for. Who needs to borrow some strength from you this week?
Ok, fine, I do have a third thing. It’s not hard. Would you contact me or even respond publicly to this post and let me know your answers? It does the heart good to hear about all of us out there holding hope for one another. And if you need someone? I’d be honored to be a hope-holder for you. Please message me.
God of Hope,
We are overwhelmed and exhausted. Our arms are full of heaviness, and we're struggling to hold hope alongside our other burdens. Bring us fellow hope-holders to prop up our arms when we don't have the strength to continue on our own. Help us to recognize them when they arrive, and accept their gift with grace. Help us to see those around us whose arms are drooping. May we be quick to grab something for them to sit on and hold up their arms while they do.
Help us to remember that the mystery of the Good News is Christ in us - the hope of glory. Thank you for showing up to us and for us in the middle of this world's mess and ugliness. May the light you brought illuminate our path as we show up for one another. Make us your hands and feet here on this earth. May we live our lives compelled by Love. Amen.
*I’ll be showing up here on the next few Sundays before Christmas talking about what we can do and how we can show up in the middle of a pandemic to prepare for a God who showed up for us in the flesh, here, in a broken world. Don’t want to miss a post? Sign up at the link below to get it straight into your inbox. You’re not into it? Just skip the Sunday posts. Or maybe? Read it? Consider that it’s all a little easier and more grace-full than what you think.