A Hope Worth Having

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Hebrew 6:16-20

Two atheists were flying in a single-engine airplane when it was struck by lightning. Faced with certain death, the atheists grasped for hope and turned to God. The problem they had was they did not know how to reach out to God. One said to the other: “So how are we going to have God help us if we do not know how to pray?” The other atheist answered, “Listen, I live next to a Catholic Church. I’ve listened to them pray many times. Let’s pray one of their prayers.” So he began with the Catholic prayer: “B-5 — N-14 — B-1 . . .”

Preparing to take religious vows, a young novice asked the oldest member of the order, “Father, do you still wrestle with the devil?” The elderly priest replied, “No, my son. I have grown old and the devil has grown old with me.
He does not bother me as before. Now I wrestle with God.” Surprised, the novice asked, “Wrestle with God? Do you hope to win?” “Oh no,” said the wrinkled old man, “I hope to lose.”

On December 10, 1997, Sam Donaldson asked Ted Turner what he wanted written on his tombstone. Ted Turner’s answer was: “I have nothing more to say.” The message of Easter is different than the message of Ted Turner. The message of Easter is the voice of God that speaks at the time of our death: “I have plenty more to say . . . and an eternity in which to say it.”

Hope and despair are a projection of the imagination. Despair all too readily embraces the ills it foresees; Hope is an energy and arouses the mind to explore every possibility. In response to hope the imagination is aroused to picture every possible issue, to try every door, to fit together even the most heterogeneous pieces in the puzzle. After the solution has been found it is difficult to recall the steps taken — so many of them are just below the level of consciousness. I was amazed at the capacity of Vickie (my wife) to have hope as she battled cancer. Time and time again the treatments failed. But she would simply say, “OK, lets try a different one.” In the hope that a treatment would be found and be successful.

Patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, and patience with God is faith. The church is filled with people who started brilliantly their working career, but have lost their way in the Church. The energy goes to the priority. They are just holding on and frantically trying to survive.

Norman Cousins was a doctor who treated leprosy and edited the Saturday Review magazine in the early 1960s. After suffering a painful and prolonged illness, he became fascinated with ways to fight against the “pain intensifiers” that he identified as negative emotions which increase the amount of pain a person feels. Cousins concluded that if negative emotions could produce chemical changes in the human body, then positive emotions such as hope, faith, love, joy, will-to-live, creativity and playfulness could counteract the results of negative emotions and thereby reduce pain. Cousins began a research group at the UCLA medical school and studied the effects of positive emotions on health and pain. He surveyed 649 oncologists and asked them what psychological and emotional factors in their patients seemed important to them. Over 90 percent of those surveyed assigned the highest value to the attitudes of hope and optimism. Paul Brand writes about this research, “One of the most important gifts we in the health profession can offer our patients is hope, thereby inspiring in the patient a deep conviction that inner strength can make a difference in the struggle against pain and suffering.” Shortly before he died, Norman Cousins wrote, “Nothing I have learned in the past decade at the medical school seems to me more striking than the need of patients for reassurance . . . Illness is a terrifying experience. Something is happening that people don’t know how to deal with. They are reaching out not just for medical help but for ways of thinking about catastrophic illness. They are reaching out for hope.”

A father was working outside his home when he noticed his five-year-old daughter sprawled on the driveway, completely focused on the cement in front of her. Curious, he strolled up behind her to see what was so mesmerizing. There on the driveway a caterpillar was making its way across what, for it, was a vast expanse, fraught with obstacle and danger. The girl was absolutely spellbound, watching as the creature’s tiny legs and body propelled its slinky way to… well, wherever it was going. “Caterpillars sure are interesting, aren’t they?” the father said at last. The little girl didn’t take her eyes off the driveway. She just grunted: “Uh-huh.” They quietly watched for a few minutes, as the caterpillar struggled to negotiate a wide crack in the pavement. “Before too long,” the father noted, “he won’t have to worry about big cracks like that.” “Why not?” the girl wondered. “He’ll just fly over the top of it,” Dad said. For the first time, the little girl looked up. “Nuh-uhhhh,” she said. “Caterpillars don’t fly.” “You’re right — they don’t,” Dad replied. “But they turn into butterflies, and you’ve seen how well butterflies can fly.” One of these days this caterpillar will build a little home for itself called a cocoon, and then he’ll go to sleep for a while. When he wakes up he’ll crawl out of his cocoon, only by then he will have turned into a butterfly, and he’ll fly away.”
His daughter was suspicious. “Daddy, is this sort of like that tooth fairy story?” “No, sweetheart,” he replied, “this is true. “I was worried about him,” she said. “But if he’s really going to be able to fly, I won’t give up on him.”

All of us find ourselves occasionally limited. Sometimes we’re forced by circumstances to move slowly, struggling to overcome each new obstacle in our way. At other times we encounter limitations that are even more restrictive, binding us in a cocoon of disability, depression or hardship. At such times the easiest solution would be to simply give up. Only those who are capable of joy can feel pain at their own and other’s suffering. A person who can laugh can also weep. The laughter of Easter and the sorrow of the cross are alive in liberated Christians.

…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us….(Romans 5:3)

Hope accomplishes for the soul the same thing an anchor does for a ship. It makes our faith fast and secure. An anchor preserves a ship when the waves beat and the wind blows, and as long as the anchor holds, the ship is safe, and the mariner perceives no danger. So with the soul of the Christian.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt 7:24)

Hope distinguishes the Christian from the unbeliever, who has no hope.

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