Your One True Hope

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.

“Hope is good thing, maybe the best of things.  And no good thing ever dies” (Andy, wrongfully imprisoned in The Shawshank Redemption).

“Let me tell you something, my friend.  Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope can drive a man insane” (Andy’s skeptical friend Red, who’s been in that same prison for 30 years). 

Author James Bryan Smith has experienced firsthand both the joys and the heartaches associated with hope. 

He and his wife Meghan suffered every parent’s nightmare.  They lost their daughter Madeline shortly after her second birthday.  Because Madeline had been afflicted with a genetic disorder, they were hesitant to bring another child into the world.

When Meghan once again became pregnant, they held on to God and to each other.  Then when they learned they were going to have a little girl – a healthy little girl – they immediately settled on a name they hadn’t even discussed.  They would call her Hope. 

In his book The Good and Beautiful You, Smith writes that Hope became “a bright, vibrant, lively, sunny, blonde-haired, happy little girl.”  Everyone who knew her remarked, “’She sure lives up to her name; she is so positive and joyful and…full of hope.’  That became a running joke in our family.” 

Then things changed.

About the time Hope turned 15, Smith noticed that the light seemed to have gone out of her life.  She admitted she was struggling with anxiety.  When James and Meghan wondered if she might like to see a counselor, Hope agreed.

Little by little, under the care of that kind therapist, Hope began to heal.  But as Smith recalls, “We had no idea what she had been dealing with.”

One day the counselor asked Meghan and James to come in for a conversation.  “There are some things [Hope] wants you to know about, but she would rather have me tell you than tell you herself.”  They didn’t know what to expect, especially when the counselor said, “Hope has been carrying a terrible burden.” 

When Hope was 13, she had been physically and sexually assaulted by a boy at her school.  She had succeeded at hiding the emotional and physical wounds.  “She confided in two of her friends,” the counselor said, “but they did not believe her.  And then they abandoned her, and eventually even betrayed and bullied her.”  Along the way she lost her faith in God – a God she was sure had rejected her.

The Smiths were in shock.  They could hardly breathe.  “But why?” Meghan asked.  “Why would she not tell us?” 

The therapist, who had become very fond of Hope, choked up as she answered.  “Because of her name.  She is ashamed of what happened to her.  She knows that she came into a broken family, a family that lost a child.  She loved her name when she was young, but after the assault and the bullying, she felt she was broken, that she was no longer able to be the hope that you, and everyone, needed her to be.”

None of us can ever be the hope for someone else, even for the people we love the most.  That’s an intolerably heavy burden for anyone to bear. 

As Hope’s recovery continued in the years that followed – as she experienced deep emotional healing and a renewal of her faith – she grasped that living up to her name had never been her job in the first place. 

Hope is always God’s job.  And it is always God’s gift. 

Paul writes in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

May the God of all hope be your one and only hope every day of this brand-new year.