The third reflection in a series, “Hope to See Us Through,” by the Rev. Terry Elsberry.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”
Imagine this. You’ve been sailing with friends in open water all day. Suddenly a squall pipes up. The boat lists. The captain shouts to you to grab a flapping halyard. You reach over the starboard to get the line. Suddenly, without warning a wave jolts the boat. You’re overboard, swimming for your life.
You’re a strong swimmer. But minutes seem like hours. You start to feel the effects of the hard work it is to stay above the waves. You call out to the men on the boat. But they’re too busy trying to right the boat to hear. They don’t even know you’ve gone over.
Is it going to end now, like this?
You tell yourself no. You will not give up. You shout the Captain’s name, and almost immediately you see it. You see your lifeline flung expertly by the Captain through the wind and waves.
With what feels like your last gasp of breath, you lay hold of the line. You grab your lifeline. And you hang on as if your life depended on it. Because it does.
Men on board reel you in, up, over and onto the deck. You collapse, gasping and retching but joyful.
You look up, up into the eyes of your savior. Your captain. He reaches down and lifts you up. You look into the eyes of the man who saved your life.
By now you’ve probably figured out that this little story is a metaphor for the feelings some of us are having in the midst of this pandemic.
If you’re like me, try though you might, there are moments—for some of us more than moments—when the anxiety of the situation we find ourselves in, the situation the world has found itself in, feels overwhelming.
I was talking to a young friend of mine the other day. He’s the father of three, very bright, gifted in many ways, by nature upbeat. He said something that surprised me, coming from him. He said, “Some days I feel like I want to get in bed, hide my head and not come out till this thing is over.”
A lot of us may sometimes have similar feelings, as the pandemic grows more deadly, the isolation more intense, for some the loneliness more oppressive.
So as Christians, what do we do?
We cry out to our Captain, Jesus, and we ask Him to throw us the lifeline to see us through these days and nights. He lifeline is hope.
Hope, in the good times and in the bad times like now, is the fuel, the energy that propels us through life. That fuel is Holy Spirit energy. It comes from the Lord Himself. Never in my lifetime have so many needed so much help at the same time. Never have so many needed to avail themselves of the divine power and energy of the hope that comes to us directly from the Lord.
In the words of the Apostle Paul: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and grace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15: 13)
How do we make the most of Paul’s prayer? How do we avail ourselves of this lifeline that comes from our God of hope? How do we take advantage of this power the Lord gives us to see us through times like these? Here are three ways to make hope more real in your life now.
ONE: LOOK FOR SIGNS OF HOPE
Spring is coming early this year. And what a gift that is for those of us living in the Northeast. If you’re like me and have Spring bud allergies, you may be dealing with the burden of itchy eyes and nose. But the upside is the fresh beauty of Spring flowers. The flowers festooning Put’s Hill on the Post Road. The startling yellow of daffodils has never seemed brighter. The birds singing their hearts out on warmer than usual mornings. All signs that nature continues all around us, impervious to the virus, happy reminder that the universe continues its majestic Spring renewal.
In the words of Emily Dickinson:
“Hope is the thing with feathers;
That perches in the soul;
And sings the tune without the words;
And never stops—at all.”
I can’t see the wonders of nature all around and not feel hope.
I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the musical offerings on television, but many of them are videos of school children and young people of all ages singing their hearts out on film because they aren’t able to hold their usual Spring concerts. The joyous singing of these young people offers hope that in generations to come medical science will be able to prevent another pandemic like this.
I can’t look at nature, I can’t look at children and young people and not feel hope. And there are others signs of hope today—from the heroic offerings of health care workers to grocery store employees—who pour our their lives daily to help people who need their help. There are others, many others, including our parishioners and staff here who are working overtime to keep our parish family connected.
TWO: PRACTICE HOPE
When I think of what it means to practice hope in the face of adversity, I always think of Paul. I go back to his letters to the struggling young churches, each church a sign of hope for the new faith springing up in the face of massive opposition from both the surrounding Pagan world and the traditional Jewish establishment.
Hear Paul’s cry of overcoming victory in the face of unimaginable suffering:
“I have been beaten times without number. I have faced death again and again. I have been beaten with rods three times. I have been stoned once. I have been shipwrecked three times. I have been 24 hours in the open sea. In my travels I have been in constant danger from rivers, and floods, from bandits, from my own countrymen, and from pagans. I have faced danger in city streets, danger in the desert, danger on the high seas, danger from false Christians. I have known exhaustion, pain, long vigils, hunger and thirst, doing without meals, cold and lack of clothing.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Phillips translation)
To summarize, Paul says this about himself and His fellow first Christians: “We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated. We are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone. We may be knocked down, but we are never knocked out!” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9 Phillips)
THREE: PUT YOUR TRUST IN THE GOD OF HOPE
And what enabled Paul and our other courage spiritual ancestors to launch the church against such odds? They knew the Lord!
Each one of them had had an encounter with the living God. They knew God was with them always, no matter what. They got daily, hourly, sometimes minutely infusions of hope from their Lord, from Jesus, from the God “who for the hope set before Him endured the cross.”
That’s how they did those superhuman things.
By his grace, with the hope He gives us, you and I can deal with the crises of our lives and trust He will bring us and our loved ones through.
We must remind ourselves that even in the worst of times our captain will hold us in His loving embrace. It’s our hope.