Sunday Series: Hope and the Invasion of Fear
Today I wanted to share with you some of the things I have been reflecting on in recent months, before I got pregnant and during my first trimester.
You see, both BEING pregnant and attempting to GET pregnant put you in a vulnerable place as a person: you have so many hopes and desires for the future, yet often find your happy thoughts being invaded by an equal amount of anxieties and fears. What if something goes wrong? What if we're not able to get pregnant this month too? What if there is something wrong with our bodies? What if the pregnancy doesn't last?
The questions go on and on.
But I would argue that this dynamic is not specific to pregnancy related trials or dreams: you can be torn between hope and fear in a myriad of human experiences! You could be waiting in hope for a new job, a new relationship, or good health. You could be hoping for a family member to heal from sickness, or hope that you have enough money in your bank account to bless your children this year. Hopes come in all shapes and sizes.
Yet, whatever you are experiencing, there is a similar dynamic at play in almost all circumstances: hope and the invasion of fear.
And why is this? Why is it so easy to feel fearful when we are trying to stay hopeful?
I think it's because there is so much at stake. When we hope for things, we are actively setting our mind towards something we want, while acknowledging that the failure to get what we want will be heartbreaking. It puts our hearts, desires, and dreams on the line! It causes us to admit that we want something we don't have! I think this is why it is often easier in life to set ourselves up with low or even negative expectations. It might be easier to always expect things to go wrong or to expect things to turn sour so that we don't get our hopes up and experience heartbreak!
I was definitely one of those people. Instead of expecting good things, I would expect bad things to happen, that way, when bad things DID happen, I wasn't so heartbroken and intimately crushed. It was a way of fortifying and protecting myself.
But there are problems with both approaches.
Firstly, I don't think it's wise to never expect anything to go wrong in blind hope: this is life we are talking about, not a Disney Channel sports movie! It's a broken system in a broken world, and the only thing we are guaranteed in this life is some form of disappointment or heartbreak along the way.
When we ignore this possibility altogether, it could be shocking to our systems and even the foundation of our faith when we DO experience hardship. Expecting perfection or for everything to go right all the time sets us up for failure, and may even cause us to resent God. As Proverbs 16:9 says,
"The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps."
And we are told in James 4:13-14,
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes."
These verses make it clear: though we may hope and plan for the future, we never truly know what will happen. God is the only author of our futures, and no amount of hope will guarantee our paths!
But moving to the other side of the spectrum, it is clear that expecting things to go wrong all the time is not the answer either.
It is true that expecting the negative to happen to us all the time can drain us of energy and vibrancy. It could make us an unpleasant person to be around, and even cause us to walk into more despair or destruction simply because we are so used to things going wrong. Never hoping or putting ourselves out there might cause us to not work towards our goals, or even cause us to never try new experiences, just because we expect them to be a failure!
This is not the way we should live life, and to back this up, we are told in Romans 5:3-5,
"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
We are told to remain hopeful, and specifically, HOPEFUL DESPITE SUFFERING. If we are to be hopeful in suffering, are we not to be hopeful in our everyday lives? Not downcast or downtrodden.
When we were trying to get pregnant, I battled with this dilemma: do I keep my hopes up or expect bad things? When I tried being hopeful at all times, it caused me to get SO upset when things didn't work out. But when I tried keeping my expectations extremely low or non existent, I just felt bitter and sad. Neither approach worked.
So I went to Scripture.
And what I found was not the answer to whether or not to hope for the things I wanted, but rather, WHAT I was actually supposed to hope for, and WHO I was supposed to put my hope in!
And of course you already know the answer: God. Our good, faithful, and majestic Triune God. He is where we are to put our hope in. And not for specific blessings or outcomes, (as I outlined in this blog post) but to simply hope in God and His great goodness.
Because regardless of whether or not I get what I want here on earth, I am already promised the greatest blessing of all: eternal life with Him. My name is in the Book of Life, and I put my trust and hope in His faithfulness, that He will sustain me despite the things I experience in this world and despite my own failures, desires, or dashed dreams.
Our hope should not be put in ourselves or in the things we want: it should be put in God and his unwavering faithfulness. We should never idolize or worship our hopes and dreams more than we worship the Almighty God.
Because no matter how incredible, uplifting, or wondrous your dream or hope is, it is still nothing in comparison to our God. He is worthy of all our love, filling our entire hearts, minds, and souls.
And this deep love we have for Him should translate into a deep trust in His sovereign wisdom. We should trust that He will allow what He allows in our lives for His greater purpose, and that He is always molding us and shaping us to grow more like Him.
We may think we know what we need or want in our lives, but God always knows better. And unlike the modern teachings of many American churches, we must remember that God DOES allow us to go through the refining fire. He allows His flock to experience hardship, persecution, sickness, and trials so that He may be glorified.
As humans, we have a very black and white view of "good things." To us, good things are having a lot of money, getting the milestones we want, having happy times with friends and family, and laughing and enjoying life.
Yes, these are all good things, and they are pleasurable, but not all good things ARE pleasurable. Some good things are extremely unpleasant, disagreeable, or downright painful.
Giving birth is painful. Exercising is painful. Practicing self-control is painful. Disciplining a child is unpleasant. Keeping the public safe from dangerous criminals is often an extremely unpleasant task. Getting on our hands and knees to clean the grout in our bathroom is unpleasant. But all these things are good.
God has a view and perspective of life and morality that we will never be able to comprehend. His wisdom is simply outside the bounds of our comprehension and understanding. He may very well choose to allow things or trials in our lives that are anything BUT what we hoped for, but that does not mean He is not good or that He is not good to us.
In response, let's look to 1 Timothy 6:6-12...
"But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Fight the Good Fight of Faith
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. "
We are told to focus on contentment. Being content with what we have and trusting God to provide. We are also explicitly told to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. Holding to a steadfast spirit is to hold fast onto the things we believe and to the God we believe in. Pursuing gentleness is to have a quiet and meek spirit, ready to receive the things of God.
I think we are always going to struggle between hoping for things and trying to keep our expectations low in defense. It's a natural part of life.
But there is a difference between having a hope for something and becoming obsessed with it. When we start to idolize, worship, and obsess over the things of this world, even the GOOD things (like marriage, children, financial security) then we are failing to fulfill our calling to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.
If the failure to achieve our goals or reach our hopes causes us to hate our Creator, then we might need to question if we are indeed worshiping the Creator, or if we are worshiping Him in hopes of getting what we want.
We cannot put expectaitons on God to fulfill our hope, but neither should we expect that He will never bless us in the life. It is instead up to us to trust Him, that even the things we don't want in our lives might be for our good. They could be a blessing in disguise or even the disciplining and judging hand of God, shaping us to become more like Him through every hardship.
We will never know exactly what He is doing, but we DO know that He promised to work everything together towards our good. But we must remember that "good" to us doesn't often match with what is good to God.
So today, instead of keeping your hopes down in the drain, choose to put your hope in God. As Psalm 42:11 says,
"Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God."
And as Psalm 33:18-19 says,
"Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine."
So don't worry about getting your hopes up or down for specific things in your life. Instead, focus on hoping in God and trusting in His sovereign guidance and will for your life, that He may work all things, even the trials, together for your good and for His ultimate glory.
Peace be to you today,