For a few weeks now, I've been carrying around some unusual symbols of hope: a small stack of paint swatches in a wrinkled plastic grocery bag.
I'd been looking for a new place to live—someplace close enough to work and school to shorten a soul-draining daily commute. A good space for having friends over, with enough room for a little dog, and a small balcony where I can read on warm summer nights. A space with walls I can paint whatever color I want.
Finding that space has taken more than a year—a long year full of appointments and paperwork squeezed around all of my regular responsibilities. As time has ground on, the idea of having a home has started to feel more abstract than concrete. I know intellectually that eventually I'll fax the last mound of papers, write the last check, get the keys, and move in, but I didn't feel connected to that reality.
So a few weeks ago, I went to the hardware store on a mission to find some paint swatches. I figured that having some small reminders of the joy I'd feel once I had my own place would help me feel encouraged and connected, even as I slogged along.
While I'd already made the decision to see the process through until the end, somehow carrying around swatches with names like Banana Cream Pie and Buttered Sweet Corn has helped me to remain positive and joyful, if a little hungry.
This small example from my day-to-day life has me thinking about what hope means for a follower of Christ. While I affirm that my hope is in him in a sort of general, overarching sense, just skimming the day's headlines about the host of intractable problems facing the world presents a deep challenge to that hope.
I wonder: How do I connect what feels like abstract hope to the concrete problems I see? Are we all just slogging along in this mess, seeing bright little splashes of hope here and there, but mostly getting worn down? And how does the gospel apply to all of this?
A friend of mine often poses these questions by asking, "What's the Good News for this situation?" And sometimes, I just don't know. I find myself living the realities of Romans 8, which describes the joyful challenges of freedom in Christ, of waiting for God's glory to be revealed, and of living as victors who cannot be separated from the love of God.
One of my favorite gospel songs, by the composer Lucie Campbell, describes having a "something within" that allows a believer to persist through the challenges of life:
"Something within me that holdeth the reins/ Something within me that banishes pain/ Something within me I cannot explain, All that I know there is something within."
Campbell's lyrics describe that "something within" as a "heavenly fire." If hope is one of those "somethings within," how can we maintain it, so that it warms others?
I often find myself encouraged by a good book about faith or a conversation with a fellow traveler who is farther along the road of faith than I am. But I'd like to become someone who integrates hope more deeply into my life. I'd like to "practice" it—to carry it around with me like I have these swatches for the last few weeks.
What helps you to practice hope?