This is a post about what we do with our unrealized hopes. It seems like lately all I’m thinking about are the unrealized hopes of way too many people.
It’s been one of “those” seasons at our church, one of those times when you feel like you almost don’t want to check our Facebook page for fear of what you will hear of next. There have been so many sad things. Not one but TWO little boys fighting cancer, with grandmas and families that are part of our community. Another church member, a mother of two, facing a continued cancer journey. More people who have lost loved ones than I can list in the last few months, and so many of them tragic. And then there are of course the lost jobs. And people with depression. And sickness. And infertility. And ongoing health struggles.
This week in our service we looked again at a story we’re studying together this fall, known as the Road to Emmaus (if you are from MHBC and feel well versed in this summary, feel free to skip to the next paragraph…). This story (found in Luke 24) takes place on the Sunday after Jesus died. It says that two of his followers are walking on a road to another town when a stranger comes up and begins walking with them. Now, we are told as the readers that the person walking by them is actually Jesus, but they don’t know that for a while. They think he’s just some guy walking with them. They tell this man what had happened in their lives in the last little while. They tell him about “Jesus of Nazareth,” a “prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” They explain that Jesus had been executed just a couple of days before and then they say the really painful thing: “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
There it is:
But we had hoped.
Here is what happens when I read this story to a church full of people I love, many of whom I have known for a while now. I look around and I can see and I can hear and I can name the “I had hoped” story on so many of the faces. And my heart feels like it could break.
This story of disciples walking on a road, walking away from the city where their hopes were destroyed, naming to a stranger their defeat and their heartbreak, is not so different from a whole lot of our stories, even if it happened 2000 years ago. Most of you have been there. Walking away from the hospital. The doctor’s appointment. The graveside. And if someone were to ask you at that moment, you would have your story, too. “But I had hoped….”
I would get better.
The treatment would work.
I would be pregnant.
He would live.
So here’s this room full of unrealized hopes. And me at the front with a passage to teach. What is there to say? This is what I said this week, inspired by the example of these two disciples and friends from 2000 years ago, about what we do with our unrealized hopes.
- Name and Lament
This is a message that I want to say loud and often. You are ALLOWED to be disappointed. You can name your hurt, your pain and your discouragement. You don’t even have to make it sound pretty and you certainly don’t have to try to put a good spin on it. The disciples didn’t. They just call it what it was.
“Jesus died. But we had hoped in something different.”
“This isn’t what we wanted to happen!” they declare.
And in the light of our unrealized hopes, we need to declare it too. We need to name it. Own it. Put our finger on it. Say it out loud. Tell it to God, and to anyone else you feel like, too.
This lets us lament. Lament is when we say what we are sad about and let ourselves be sad. I’m certain the disciples were sad because it tells us: When Jesus asked them what they were talking about it says: “They stood still, looking sad.”
Sometimes, we pause, stay still, and let ourselves be sad. It’s not only okay – it’s necessary.
- Discern our Desires
There is, however, another step. It may take a while to get there. The lament phase can be long, and you may bounce back to it often. This is normal. But when you are ready, when the lost hope has been named and the pain has been grieved, we begin to ask: “What was God doing? What is God still doing? Where is God in this?”
This happens in short order for the disciples in this story. After they spew out their story of loss, Jesus (who they still think is some stranger) begins to teach them. It says “He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
They thought all their hopes were over. They thought Jesus was dead. What else could be the case? But turned out Jesus had to die, in order for the much bigger thing that God was doing to happen. And Jesus helps them see that. He helps them discern what is really going on in the midst of their unrealized hope.
As we discern, we may realize that some of our desires had to die to make space for what God has planned. That break-up needed to happen. The self-motivated dream had to be replaced. Or we may discern that in the midst of great loss God is giving opportunities for redemption. We begin to see the ways God has been with us or what we are learning.
This is the cool thing about this story. The men were despairing because Jesus was dead but it turned out Jesus was walking beside them on the road. They just didn’t understand yet.
- We hope
After they are awed by the stranger’s teachings, they insist that he come to their house to eat. Then they see it – the stranger is JESUS and he is ALIVE!! As they finally see the full story, they are transformed from people of defeat to people of joy. They run back to Jerusalem to tell everyone the great news.
What had happened on Friday hadn’t changed. Jesus HAD died. But what had changed was that they saw the full story, and that made a big difference. They could hope again.
We can too, as hard as that may be to believe. We can hope when we remember the full story.
And the full story is that Jesus IS alive and HAS defeated death and that God is still working for the redemption of the whole world. We already know the end to the full story. That no unrealized hope will be wasted. That no pain will last forever. That one day, we will gather at a table with Jesus and see it all, too, and it will be quite the party.
Perhaps it does not feel like enough. But that’s what I told everyone this past Sunday morning.
Lament. Discern. Hope.
Repeat as needed.