So, did 2014 turn out to be the year you hoped it would be? Did it exceed expectations? Or was it thoroughly disappointing?
I began the year hopeful, but nervous. There were three things I really hoped would happen this year – baby, job, house. I confess that in many ways they were all pretty selfish hopes, potentially revealing my conformity to the idols of today – but that’s an issue for another day.
I had hopes. But as a result, I expected that this was going to be a really bad year. For one reason or another, all three of my hopes had some massive hurdles in front of them. Therefore I expected that this year was going to be one of disappointment and frustration. Being hopeful is a risky business. Hope and I haven’t always been the best of friends – hope has let me down. I expect you’ve had the same problem.
But this year took me by surprise. Hope delivered the goods! All my hopes were realised and I’m ending the year a happy man. “Be joyful in hope,” Paul says in his letter to the Romans (12:12). And I am.
However, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reflecting on all of this. What if this year hadn’t gone according to plan? What if next year is rubbish? What about the people I know – and of course the billions I don’t – who also had great hopes for this year, but who’s hopes were crushed?
Because although hopelessness is a terrible position to be in, hopefulness can also have its perils.
When Paul speaks about hope, he seems to understand the harsh reality of hope. After saying: “Be joyful in hope”, he continues, “[be] patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Somehow we need to see these three instructions, not as separate statements but as three legs of a tripod. I find being joyful, a lot easier that I do being patient or faithful. But all are necessary – often all at the same time. And not just for ourselves. These words are located in a passage about love and our connection with others. In community, we need to be able to celebrate the fulfilled-hope of others, while being patient over our own afflictions, faithfully praying for one another.
Being hopeful is risky. But it’s a risk we should take.
Christmas is a time to celebrate hope. Hope turning up in human-form. Hope breaking into world when many had given up. Hope being found in an unexpected place. Hope being offered to the hopeless. Hope turning the world upside down. However, this is not a hope of glibly-worded platitudes. This is a hope that knows affliction. This is a hope that requires faith. This is the hope that enables me to have hope – to believe that hope is worth fighting for.
So, what are your hopes for 2015? Your hopes will set your direction, so think carefully. If you’re having trouble thinking, remember that hope needs to be fed, so spend some time being inspired. Finally, embrace your hopes, not only with joy but with patience and faithfulness.