There is that lovely feeling rising up in my heart. It is refreshing and enlivening.
What is it?
The promise of something new. The promise of change. The desire for tomorrow to surpass what was done today.
Yet how quick I am to fade from hope back to disillusionment or despair. The feelings I have that encourage change and a new direction are simply feelings: temporal, passing, ephemeral. I made a list of dreams I want to have fulfilled in 2016 and get excited, yet within a couple days I’m ready to settle.
What I need instead is the virtue of hope, something that actually lasts.
“The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to the happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspires men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.” –Catechism of the Catholic Church 1818
A few months ago, I had this intense feeling of hope. It didn’t make sense logically because what I hoped for was nowhere in sight, nor did it seem to be soon in coming. The feeling was so strong, though, that I knew it was from the Lord. Yet I also knew, from past experiences, that sometimes the Lord will provide an abundance of something for me because in the near future, there will be a seeming lack of that very thing.
When I started sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh, I was filled with overwhelming joy and peace after the first three times. It was strange because I had prayed there for a couple years and never felt those emotions so intensely while there. The Lord was giving me the reassurance I would need when those feelings subsided. And they did: when the joy and peace were absent, I felt the closest I’ve ever been to depression. I ached and felt hollow within. If it wasn’t for those weeks of intense joy when logically I should have felt sorrow, I might have quit sidewalk counseling. I didn’t because I knew the Lord had convinced me of my course of action through consolation.
So a few months ago, when I felt this overwhelming sense of hope (or, as I called it at the time, “joyful anticipation”), I was thankful for that gift from the Lord, yet also a little concerned for what might be ahead. “Thanks, Jesus, for this wonderful joyful anticipation. I love this feeling. But…what is going to happen later?” The hope lingered and I basked in it. I told myself to remember this intensity of hope because it would pass, as all feelings do.
And they passed.
I found myself wishing I could quit life for a while and simply step out of the day-to-day grind. I wanted the Lord to deliver His promise now, because I wanted it now, not later. With the feeling of hope absent, the future no longer seemed quite as bright and cheery. I was left wondering if I hadn’t made it all up. Yet when I thought about what I had felt, I could still feel this deep certainty that it was true. The thing hoped for is not yet a reality, but I know the Lord will remain true to His promises, even if I must wait.
True hope is not a feeling that comes and goes, depending on the day. It is steadfast and enduring. Hope persists when logic and appearances suggest that it is fruitless. It is what the Israelites depended on as they waited for their long-desired Messiah. It is hope that led the three wise men to journey miles in anticipation of a king preceded by a star. As the early Christian martyrs were led to their deaths, it was hope that enabled them to look with love at the very ones who wielded the sword or the stone or the nail.
Hope isn’t a different perspective to have on life: hope is to have a new life.
“The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.” —Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI
2016 will not be the year that my life becomes perfect or where I will magically change into the person I always wanted to be. But I do want this year to be one where I am honestly pursuing the best for myself and where the Lord’s will for my life is done more completely than ever before. I want to read twenty-five books, learn about the constellations, travel to two new states, and many more things.
Primarily, though, my hopes rest in the Lord. I want to venture into 2017 knowing the Lord in a far deeper way than I do right now. I want to enter tomorrow with a deeper knowledge and love for Jesus. I am not promised tomorrow. All the things I long for and hope for in the future, may never be mine because I may not live to see that day. But I am here now, and that is where the Lord desires to meet me.
“Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope. Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it!” –St. John Paul the Great, WYD Toronto 2002
This year I am embracing this hope that springs eternal in my young heart. I am taking this hope and letting it lead me into change (though it be difficult) and into newness of life. Hope, for the Christian, isn’t optional, it is operative.
I need hope. Not passing feelings, but real, life-sustaining, time-enduring, source from which my actions flow hope. Anything less is insufficient.
“My soul is waiting for the Lord, I count on his word. My soul is longing for the Lord more than watchmen for daybreak. Let the watchmen count on daybreak and Israel on the Lord.” (Psalm 130)