I didn’t expect to lose the will to live. That was something for quitters, those who were chronically negative or weak. From my earliest memories, I’ve always been a fighter. Determined, optimistic, stubborn to a fault. Quitting wasn’t an option.
Until it seemed the only option I had left.
It took twenty years of consecutive, unrelenting losses for me to finally lose my will to fight. Betrayal, divorce, single motherhood. Remarriage, step-parenting, and adolescent parenting, followed by fostering and parenting three kids from severe trauma. Then came the three cancer diagnoses in the span of five years — bam, bam, and BAM. And in the middle of that I buried my dad after his thirteen-month war against terminal pancreatic cancer.
And those were just the “big” losses. There were other struggles that were less sensational but no less painful. Like a Weeble Wobble, I’d always been able to bounce back from a challenge. But after the third cancer diagnosis — the one that left me with a permanent disability and in chronic pain — I lost my bounce. Instead, I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up again. Any hope I’d once had was gone.
There’s a verse in Romans 5 that talks about the power of hope:
And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (vv. 3-5 NASB).
And hope does not disappoint, the God-inspired Scripture says.
And yet I remember reading those words and immediately feeling a surge of resistance. And white-hot anger.
That’s not true! I wanted to scream. Hope does disappoint!
I’d prayed for relief and deliverance for so many years. And yet, in spite of my bent knees and dogged hope, the only answer it seemed I’d receive was more suffering. More loss. More grief and tears. Disappointment was an ocean, and I was drowning in it. I battled to keep my faith afloat, to believe in a good and loving and powerful God. And yet that belief only seemed to leave me weary and desperate for rescue.
Where was the God of hope? Where was the one who said He loved me and would always be with me? Didn’t my relentless grief confirm His absence — or at least His disregard?
Somewhere in the midst of those hard years, I went to the mailbox and found a gift parcel. I didn’t recognize the return address. Inside was a short letter from a total stranger along with an olive wood cross small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. In the following months and years, I found myself holding on to that cross and rubbing its smooth surface when the worst of the losses threatened to take me under. Something about its tangible presence brought comfort.
Then, during Easter one year, I finally understood why. Although I’d long celebrated Jesus’s resurrection, it was Jesus’s suffering that gave me hope.
Jesus knew what it was like to endure pain and loss. He knew what it was like to ask God for relief and deliverance and not receive it. For so much of my faith journey, I’d viewed Easter through the joy of Jesus’s resurrection. But now I saw it through the eyes of His suffering and crucifixion. Jesus knew both physical pain and spiritual agony. He felt the seeming distance of the Father, who didn’t intervene and spare Him the cross.
And yet Jesus didn’t lose hope.
Because His hope wasn’t in an outcome. His hope was in a Person.
Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
Psalm 119:49-50 (NIV)
Your promise preserves my life, the psalmist wrote. Not God’s promise of happily ever after. Not God’s promise of physical healing or a perfect family or pain-free existence.
But God’s promise of Himself.
Jesus is God’s promise fulfilled, divine presence in human flesh. And heaven — the hope of an eternal, pain-free promised land — is the final piece of that promise, when I will live in the hope-filling presence of my Father God forever.
It’s now been almost six years since that season of suffering nearly took me under. I’ve had more hard days than I can count. Life continues to have unexpected circumstances and painful losses. Sure, I have plenty of good days too, and I celebrate those. But life remains hard for so many of us.
Still, as I look at my olive wood cross, more worn than it was six years ago, I remind myself again and again:
If I place my hope in an outcome — a prayer I want answered or a healing I want delivered — I will end up disappointed. “You will have suffering in this world,” Jesus says (John 16:33). That’s the bad news in no uncertain terms. None of us will escape the pain of the human condition. It’s part of the deal.
However, Jesus didn’t end with the bad news. “But take heart! I have overcome the world,” He promises (John 16:33).
Jesus — the flesh-and-blood presence of God Himself — is our good news. He is our hope, our answered prayer to all prayers. And if our hope rests in Him alone, we will not be disappointed. Our hope is as sure as His resurrection, our eternity as perfect as His promise. One way or the other, my friends, the best is yet to come.
This story was written by Michele Cushatt, as published in the Create in Me a Heart of Hope Bible Study.
Create in Me a Heart of Hope is the new (in)courage Bible study from DaySpring, written by Mary Carver and featuring stories from your favorite (in)courage writers! The first in a series of four studies, Heart of Hope looks at how God offers us hope — real, certain, unshakable hope. We believe that looking at where that hope comes from and what it looks like in our lives will help us understand first, what hope is, and second, the difference it makes. It will allow God to create in us a heart of hope.
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