hope is dangerous.

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this saturday night marked the first week of advent leading up to christmas, a season we celebrate very intentionally at the refuge. it’s a hard time of year for a lot of people i know.   it seems like loneliness, depression, fear, and shame seem to set in a little extra.  in our community this year we are doing something i have wanted to try for years–a plan to have something to do every day from thanksgiving to new years.  we are calling it the “refuge no-suck holiday plan” & it includes a really great mix of community, serving others, movies, coffee conversations & more.  it’ll be a fun experiment.

for saturday evenings during advent, the refuge is doing a series called “making room for the unexpected”, focusing on making room for unexpected light, love, joy, and hope.  i kicked us off on saturday night (being up & out of the house that long really kicked my post-surgery butt, too, but i was glad i got to be part & now i’m back on the couch).  i challenged us to consider is to be open to the possibility of hope this advent.  but that hope can be dangerous, in a good and scary way.  i thought maybe somewhere along the line i had written on this before, and it turns out i had shared this little piece on the refuge blog in january 2009.  it is called “hope is dangerous” and i thought i’d just re-post it here in the spirit of the season of waiting, of anticipation, of hoping.

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hope. it can mean all kinds of things for different people, but i think it mainly implies “expectation.” a possibility that maybe things could be different, that there’s more to this life than just what we see, that there’s something better ahead. many of us, for all kinds of reasons, are afraid to hope. we have seen many of our dreams dashed. jobs lost. relationships crumbled. addictions destroy. God-not-delivering-the-goods-the-way-we-had-hoped. so we hunker down our hearts and do whatever we can to protect it against believing that good is really possible—again, or maybe for the first time. we settle for loneliness. we settle for disconnectedness. we settle for going-through-the-motions. the thought of something more hurts too much. what if we make ourselves vulnerable and hurt again? what if we try and they all get dashed anyway? what if we risk and lose again? the “what if’s” mount, hope gets held at bay, and we miss out on the thing that Jesus kept pointing to over and over and over again—life now. love now. hope now.

and it remains utterly consistent that pretty much everything Jesus calls us to is quite dangerous. so why would hope be different? hope will require a risk. it will require sacrifice. it will require working against our reflexes to run, hide, self-protect, self-medicate. it will require believing in what it unseen. it will mean we will hurt. it will mean we will be afraid. it will mean taking steps on a path we are unfamiliar with.
it will require us letting God’s spirit move in a way in our hearts that is mysterious and scary and maybe unfamiliar. so how do we get over our fear of hope’s dangerous-ness?

here are just a few thoughts:

  • admit what we’re really afraid of. is it being afraid to fail? are you afraid of your heart hurting? are you afraid that you’ll just end up mad at God again? what is it that freaks you out about hope? real relationship requires honesty.
  • seek courage in the small steps. we sometimes have such a high expectation of ourselves, that we’re supposed to somehow “take the hill” tomorrow, having conquered all that holds us back. that usually just leads to failure & shame & anger toward ourselves for our lack of faith and courage. small steps keep hope alive, especially when we celebrate them together in community.
  • expect it to hurt. hope’s gonna hurt. it’s supposed to. it means we are still really alive. Jesus made very clear that following him would mean pain. hardened hearts do not hurt. but soft open hopeful ones are sure to. i think we need to get better at bracing ourselves for hope to hurt.
  • recognize that hope in circumstances is not the same as hope in God. over and over in the scriptures the psalmists cry out “we hope in You, God…our hope is not in the world, but in You.” it is so easy to rest our hope in outcomes, tangibles, things-the-way-we-want-them-to-turn-out. this is why real hope is so dangerous, because it means accepting somehow that things may not be how we had hoped but that our hope in God mysteriously supersedes circumstances.
  • strain to see God, feel God, hear God wherever you can. i really think we get so blinded by our pain, our fear, our busyness, our self-centeredness that it becomes difficult to experience God’s spirit moving, revealing, challenging, strengthening, encouraging, pushing. especially when hope is waning and our anger or ambivalence is getting the best of us, we will need to strain to see him in small wacky ways that might normally be missed. in the eyes of a friend. in a word of encouragement. in a song. in the mountains. in a crisis. in a scripture. in where-ever-we-feel-a-flicker-in-our-heart-that-reminds-us-God-is-with-us.

yeah, hope is dangerous. i am afraid of it, too, but i sense God nudging me in all kinds of ways to let him fan more and more of it into flame. to risk my pride, my heart, my safety on hope’s behalf.

i love romans 15:13 in the message:

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!

this month, as we focus on hope as a community, i pray that we will be people willing to open ourselves up to its dangers. to risk on its behalf. to take steps toward life that scare us. to let God’s spirit move in ways that make our hearts come painfully alive. to let hope propel us to love.

[and in the spirit of this advent season 2010, i’ll add:  to make room for the unexpected.]

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ps:  my friend craig spinks has a set of dvd’s for the advent season focused on the same theme as the refuge–making room for the unexpected. some refuge friends are part & you can watch the one we showed on saturday here.  these dvd’s include some really great discussion starters for small groups & are very inexpensive, too.

ppss:  some other advent posts i liked:  sarah at emerging mummy has a lovely advent prayer, christine sine is starting a new series for advent called jesus is near: how do we draw close, and brittany ouchida-walsh has a beautiful advent 1 piece.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

10 Comments

  • We spoke on similar lines on this topic last night at Emergent Desert. To me, it particularly stood out that Hope as a noun was a good thing, it keeps us moving forward or at least keeps us from doing too many reckless things. Hope the verb is what I found dangerous. It seems that often we can use hope as an excuse not to take action and work on things for ourselves.

    Hope can move us forward, hope can also keep us from being the powerful creating we were meant to be.

    Reply
  • I think you are braver than I. I think you are more willing to hurt where I don’t want to hurt anymore.
    I am glad you are both willing and brave.

    “There are many ways of breaking a heart. Stories were full of hearts broken by love, but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream – whatever that dream might be.” ~Pearl S. Buck

    If we mend a heart, even piece by piece, can we learn to dream again–to hope…

    Reply
  • Advent…I love it and I hate it. Hope is a hard theme for me.
    Last night @ EmDes like Charlotte mentioned…we had a deep, hard and also encouraging conversation around the subject of HOPE.
    The biggest take away for me is that Hope means different things to different people. It’s clear that some have a holistic hope…while others can only muster transient…circumstantial hope.
    I especially resonated with one person there who said…”but what about when you don’t have any hope?” When I asked him to clarify…He spoke of how he can muster hope in the day to day…his life isn’t meaningless or aimless or hopeless aka…he’s not without expectation or possibility in the now…but…it’s the metaphysical connection to HOPE ( having to do with God) that is dead to him.
    He has no hope that God will ever seem real, close or involved in his life like he once was…he has no hope that God will be waiting with outstretched arms to receive him when he dies…As a young dad…it’s difficult for him to face this nonexistant spiritual hope…he struggles with how that will effect his kids…and what it all ultimately means. I appreaciate his honesty because That’s a bitter effing pill to swallow…I get it though. I am there many days myself.

    That said…I hope he reads this post…because I think it might open him, as it has me, to possibility and risk…which is ultimately hope.

    Reply
  • This actually made me think of Narnia! Well, maybe it’s because I have been pretty amazed by the billboards of Aslan that are up lately…the one of just Aslan’s face and snow falling all around him. It/He looks peaceful and serene…but, as we know from the first movie…”He isn’t safe…but He’s good!” So, HOPE isn’t safe, but it’s good, right?! 🙂 Honestly, I’ve been TRYING to read through Hebrews lately because I am fearful that my heart HAS been hardened. In this process I did end up painting a heart that had a grey hard shell cracking off of it, but it was bright red on the inside. I thought, “a heart that is broken on the outside, but healthy on the inside”. So, maybe I AM seeing hope in LITTLE ways…thanks for the reminder and encouragement, PK! And if you would, please pray for my heart! Thanks!

    Reply
  • If hope is expecting God to deliver the goods, we may end up very disappointed. That’s a god we invented, kind of a cosmic Santa. Wouldn’t that be nice!

    My hope is that God will walk with me through whatever circumstances I may face. I look back and remember that God always has. Therefore I have hope that this will always be the case. Yes, there may be pain. There may be no explanation as to why some things happened.

    Maybe we made a bad choice. We chose to exceed the speed limit and had an accident. Or maybe we were doing everything right and someone on a cellphone blew through a red light and hit us. (This almost happened to us a few months ago.) Sometimes life is just like that. Something hits us out of nowhere and we’re left to deal with the aftermath.

    Several years ago I lost a lot of blood. I remember being very afraid as I was loaded into an ambulance. The ambulance guys were trying to find my pulse and blood pressure. Then a calm settled over me. I instinctively knew there is a place God has prepared for me. My fear vanished. I knew I was being held in the hand of God.

    Yep, I almost died, but somehow survived. I lost almost half my blood. I made it to the hospital just in time. But now I know God is there, today. And will be there tomorrow. This life isn’t the end. There is a tomorrow. God is there. Friends and family are there. Somehow the problems and cares of this life are not. Somehow I too will soon be there.

    In the meantime I have to deal with the messes that I seem to encounter on a regular basis in this life. Because I know God has walked with me so far through the good and the bad, and because I know God is there tomorrow, I have Hope that God will continue to walk with me as I journey to tomorrow. Through the pain, through the uncertainties, through the messes. God is my Hope. There is no other – in what we see and what we cannot see.

    Reply
  • Good things Kathy. This got me thinking (thank you Joy)…I may need to move from a faith that I “know”, into one that I desperately “hope” for…which is much more of what you speak, I think. Painful, difficult, terrifying.

    However, a verse comes to mind that led me down that direction in the first place, long ago:

    2 Cor 5:5-7 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

    Yeah right – boy do I not feel confident. In fact, hope seems more like the manifestation of the exact inverse: I’m *not* confident, so I hope.

    Oh and in no way do I advocate verse plucking, and I haven’t been in … The Word … for years. So, no context provided. But, this still represents that general feeling I’ve lost. The confidence.

    Reply
  • charlotte – that is a pretty thought–hope as a verb. we talk about love that way sometimes but not hope. that is definitely something to ponder. and fun that we were all talking about the same things close to the same times. thanks for reading & sure did miss not being able to come down for voca femina phx.

    skylark – brave or stupid, ha ha, sometimes they’re close to the same thing. no, not really. and yeah, the hurting part is the hardest part, especially when we’ve already had a lot of pain & aren’t really up for going in for more. but i still do believe a life of hope & dreaming & living & loving–even though it’s painful and harder–is worth it. so glad for your voice, your presence, your heart. here’s to being able to dream again.

    sean – thanks for reading. glad somehow out here in the land of facebook, etc. we can stay connected.

    joy – oh yeah, that’s maybe the brutal-est one of all that is so hard with all of this spiritual shifting and changing. what happens when hope in God slips away. i do believe despair can set in. it’s why i think it’s so important to look in different ways to experience goodness, life, love, joy, peace and see it there and in some small way attribute it to God and call it a day, instead of trying to muster it up when it’s just not musterable at the moment. it’s so hard when all that was once clear, measurable, and tangible has slipped away. and the new-thing-isn’t-quite-there-yet. and probably will never be in the same way. i keep trying to respect that, that the old is gone, ain’t coming back, but new beauty and hope and goodness has come and is coming in totally strange ways that i’m not used to and sometimes can’t recognize if i’m always waiting for it to somehow look like the old thing. well, there’s a ramble for ya. lots of love (and hope, ha ha) from CO to there.

    tammy – i didn’t think of that when i was writing this but oh, that’s so true and why i love those stories so much, too. thanks for reading and sharing and being you.

    sam – oh such lovely thoughts. i think the santa-magic-wand-God gets taught in so many contexts that it can get confusing. when i started letting God off the hook, so much freedom has come. i really agree with you that is the only thing i am really, really sure of–that God will be with us no matter, even when it might feel like it. that has sustained me in more ways than one. thanks for sharing.

    sarah – thanks for reading & for your voice (and hope). it’s contagious.

    jacob – thanks for your thoughts here…i think you hit a nail on the head for so many when that strong and solid and sure confidence gets lost along the way. some bible verses are so confusing like that because they don’t add “and yes, it’s really really hard to live like this and it’s going to be really confusing.” at least that’s not how much of them have been interpreted that way. it’s hard to live in mystery & not-sure-ness & unconfidence. your response made me think of this exercise we did one time at our house of refuge about “one thing.” i think it was from city slickers and was a jack palance question–what’s one thing that you’re sure of. it was a good exercise because it made each of us remember something that we could somehow stand on, cling to, hold on to, despite all of the things we didn’t know. like i told charlotte, sure did miss you guys in phx, would have loved to been able to hang out with em des…

    Reply
  • We spoke on similar lines on this topic last night at Emergent Desert. To me, it particularly stood out that Hope as a noun was a good thing, it keeps us moving forward or at least keeps us from doing too many reckless things. Hope the verb is what I found dangerous. It seems that often we can use hope as an excuse not to take action and work on things for ourselves. Hope can move us forward, hope can also keep us from being the powerful creating we were meant to be.

    Reply

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