Why We Hope When All Hope Is Lost

Yesterday I got to revisit one of my most read blog posts ever (and one of my favorite bible stories!) in a guest post for To Love Honor and Vacuum. I loved getting to work with Sheila and she was such an encouragement, but when she first asked me to write a new version of a piece I’d written over two years ago I wasn’t completely sure I’d be able to do it.

black-and-white-woman-girl-sittingIt was certainly an interesting exercise to reflect on the same issue from such a different place in life . . . yet I write that and I think, “Is it a different place in life?” After all, the post is about singleness, and I am still single.

. . . Or single again, depending on whether you see singleness as being unattached, or whether it’s a binary along with married — you’re either one or the other . . .

I tend to think in binary. Married or unmarried. For me, being in a relationship was the part of the one that felt like the other. You’re still adrift at sea, but you are in sight of land. Though maybe not close enough to it to tell if it’s a habitable island, or if it’s just the wreckage of another ship passing you.

As I wrote, I found I was less drawn to the idea of desperation, and more inclined to talk about hopelessness. Hopelessness, I feel, comes after desperation. It was desperation that made Sarah forget herself and laugh when she was eavesdropping on her husband’s conversation with the messengers of God — laugh, perhaps, to keep from crying. It was hopelessness that inspired her to give her handmaid, Hagar, to her husband Abraham to produce the offspring God had promised.

“Hopelessness is dangerous,” I wrote in my Confessions . . . and I believe it. I don’t think Sarah new what she was giving away. The birthright of the firstborn is a powerful thing in Hebrew culture. And though I believe that God honored and cared for Ishmael as Abraham’s son, the sibling rivalry between the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac carries on throughout the entirety of the Old Testament and even down to the present day.  All because of a moment of hopelessness on the part of one woman.

In regards to marriage . . . part of me goes “Are we still talking about this? I’m so tired of talking about this!” . . . but in regards to marriage, I recently broke something I had kept for a long time in hopes of that day. It wasn’t out of anger or frustration. I simply broke it in carelessness. I had stopped believing it mattered. I had allowed my circumstanced to become my god and because of that I sacrificed something deeply important to me on the altar of hopelessness.

“Oh, there goes another thing I won’t need,” I thought, numb. Then it hit me like a flood a few days later and, sobbing, I dug the wreckage out of the trash can and squirreled it away somewhere, in hope of God knows what.

But in hope . . . hope it so buoyant. That is both the most miraculous part and the most painful. Our hearts were built for hope. And even long after the object of our hope is destroyed, long after we’ve doused the fire, a single look or word can kindle the spark again.

If you’re biblical scholar (or you simply looked it up like I did), you’ll notice that the second story I mentioned about Sarah actually comes before the first. Ishmael was born years before the messengers came to herald the birth of Isaac, and the promise of offspring was given to Abraham many, many years before that. I’m sure Sarah had smothered the flame of her hope more times than she could count.

Then God himself comes to have tea with Abraham and it stirs the embers in Sarah’s heart again. She lingers close to the wall of the tent where she can hear what the messengers have to say about God’s long-forgotten promise. We can only assume she held her breath because the response comes bursting out when she hears the words spoken.

And she laughs. She laughs because she realizes that, even after seeing her husband raise another women’s child as his heir, all the hope is not dead in her heart. She laughs at God and His audacity to promise such a thing. She laughs at her own foolishness for believing it.

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:27). And that’s the way it feels to hope when our circumstances don’t justify it, it feels shameful. Believing in our circumstances seems wise, believing in God despite our circumstances feels foolish.

But that is what makes us like Him. If there’s anything that characterizes the God of the Bible, it is unrelenting, often unrealistic, hope for His people. Our hearts were made for hope because our hearts were made for Him.