To be honest, I’ve been struggling with a difficult season of life since returning to the States. The reverse - culture shock and the pressure to re-adjust and acclimate to American lifestyle and being a university student again has felt emotionally exhausting and draining. And I have found myself coping with this struggle through hope - hope in future travel plans, in getting accepted to Western’s elementary education program, in someday becoming a teacher, in growth or healing in specific relationships in my life, in someday being a wife and mother…the list could go on… But lately I have felt the conviction to challenge these hopes. Not because they are innately bad, but because they are wavering.
The thing is, the reality of any of these dreams could vanish at any time. I can’t predict the future - who knows if tomorrow I will be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or get in an accident that leaves me paralyzed, preventing me from ever traveling again? I could get rejected by the program I want to do at university. I might never marry or find that I’m unable to have children someday. And if my hope is in these things alone, these things that I am unable to control or predict, then of course my life will be filled with anxiety, stress, or even depression. I think that placing our ultimate hope in things of this world is dangerous, because we become consumed with making these dreams come true, and anything that threatens their materialization feels like a personal threat to our contentment, regardless of God’s plan for our lives. Not only that, but even if those dreams do come to fruition, they can’t result in the perfect peace that I often think they will. Christ alone can satisfy and fulfill our hearts in the ways we long for.
Dreams are not bad- no, I think that they are a beautiful gift from God. I think dreams are a way that we can experience a raw vulnerability and express the passions and desires that God has uniquely given each of us in a way that glorifies Him. But I also think that they have their place in the hierarchy in our lives - and that place must always be below Christ Himself. I know that personally, my dreams tend to creep up the ladder of priorities in my life, getting closer and closer to the top until they become an idol that I worship and seek above Christ, and that is sinful.
Sometimes our dreams have to do with people. Maybe it’s someone that has deeply hurt us, a spouse or other family member or friend or coworker. A dream might be for positive change regarding that relationship. I think that this kind of “dream” is especially difficult, because it feels so right to pray and hope for relational healing. Which it is.
However, I have found in my own life, that it is easy for me to feel held back or burdened by what feels like un-answered prayers regarding relationships. I feel like a slave to discontentment until change comes about.
God is all-powerful, able to heal, restore, and save any person that He chooses. I can personally testify to this by how He chose to save me in the midst of a dark season of life, when I was not only not seeking Him, but perhaps even running completely in the opposite direction. So I know that God can save anyone, and that He has complete sovereignty and ability to restore relationships and change the people that have hurt us. And God is glorified when we pray on behalf of or for others.
But sometimes He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we expect or hope. I can’t say I know why - God is so much bigger than the extent of my understanding. But I wonder if sometimes God doesn’t change our situations, because He wants to use our situations to change us.
And now comes the difficult part - will you and I choose to trust God, to believe in His goodness and omnipotency even if our dreams don’t come true? Even if that person in our life never realizes how deeply they have hurt us, even if the relationship we hope so dearly changes for the better never does?
The Bible displays various examples of people finding hope amidst difficult circumstances. Two people that stick out to me are Paul and Job:
Philippians 4:13 is a frequently quoted verse - the kind you see on bumper stickers, tattoos, posted around people’s houses as motivation. - “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” However, I think taking this verse in context of what Paul (the author of Philippians) was actually experiencing at the time makes it even more encouraging and motivating. If we look back just two verses, we get a little more context. Verses 11 and 12 say, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Paul writes this letter to the Philippians from prison. At this point he had experienced severe persecution and was being incarcerated for his faith, but his hope is not in things of this world - he has found a hope in something much greater (Jesus!), and through that is able to experience contentment despite his circumstances.
Then there is the example of Job - Job lost all of his possessions and family….everything. Yet still he is miraculously able to say “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) I long for that kind of faith and trust in the Lord.
I guess my conviction lately has been not to do away with my hopes altogether, but rather to hope even more greatly in Christ Himself. To allow Him to be the solid rock on which I place my trust and hope. This morning in church the lyrics of the hymn My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less spoke to me - “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
May we most deeply hope in Jesus, and embrace the freedom He offers us to experience contentment amidst life’s difficulties.
"As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." - 2 Corinthians 4:18
I love Jesus and what He has to teach me while I wander around the planet. My other favorite things include: foreign languages, yoga, hiking,
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