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Friday, September 30, 2016

Future Hope

 Often, when faced with indescribable loss and hardship, all we can see is the situation in front of us. All we can feel is the pain. It seems impossible to view life with any sense of hope, with any belief that the future might hold a better day. The present seems to override everything else. 
 What allows us to gain a future hope, however, is faith. Faith can sustain our belief in a brighter tomorrow regardless of the hurt we may be dealing with. Those who look with the objective eye of trust in a higher purpose can endure hardship with hope, knowing that the sorrow of the present moment will not last forever. The producer of this faith is a God-Inspired grace. It is the divine strength afforded us in time of need, given by a merciful God to His undeserving children. Reliance on this strength gives the battered soul what it needs to carry on. 
 Six months after losing my grandmother, I wrote in my journal a few thoughts regarding a future hope in a season of grief: 

"...As dark as the valley may seem now, I know that the light will meet me on the other side. My hope may leave me for a time, but it is not gone forever. Sometimes, when in great trial, it is hard to imagine how things could ever turn out for the better, but it is in times like these that belief takes over - that the hope unseen which we claim to hold - becomes our comforter, and we cling to the truth that all things...even the hard ones...will work together for the good of those who love Him. Sorrow may encompass me for a season, but it cannot hold me down. It will not last forever. After the storms, the light always shines the brighter; the sun breaks through the clouds, and the darkness fades away. A brighter day will come. But, for now, pain is my portion and sadness my lot. Yet, it is sprinkled with joy and the hope that all this will become my blessings."

 This kind of hope is not the result of some self-induced optimism. There are way too many people out there who try to positive-think their way to emotional stability only to find that it failed in the end. Their future hope is fake. Faith-induced belief is different. It breeds eternal hope, a lasting hope, a hope and trust placed in the divine. Romans 8:18 is an oft-quoted verse in Christian circles: 

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth compared
with the glory that will be revealed in us."

James 1:2-4 also echoes the same sentiment:

"Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials
of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith
develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Here is where the future hope is evident: in the ability to find thankfulness and to take joy, even when the circumstances around us do not permit us to do so. It is probably the greatest test we will ever undergo on our journey to the secret of losing, and it is a big choice for us who live on the other side of the door. Romans 5:3-4 says that, for the Christian, 

"...we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering 
produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."


Being like this is not naive. I remember thinking that, for awhile, others who lived this way were totally out of touch. They don't know what it's like to suffer, I thought. I later realized maybe they really did know and that's why they could carry on in such peace and faith. It took me years to even remotely understand what it took to live such a life of trust. 
The great preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon once said,

"The Lord's mercy often rides to the door of our heart upon 
the black horse of affliction."

God knows that, while times of prosperity are nice and comfortable, we do not grow and change the way we do when losses and crosses befall us. Suffering brings us to the realization of our inability to handle life on our own. Being exempt from the evils of life ins't the point. Overcoming and being transformed by them is. A future hope comes from embracing this fact. If we truly want to change, we must go through hardship...not around it.
 Drew Brees, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, put it well in his book Coming Back Stronger. Referring to his nearly career-ending shoulder surgery in 2005, Brees said,

"You have to embrace the pain in order for it to have the desired
effect. The painful things we go through have a way of teaching
us things we can't learn any other way. Pain is a gift I sure didn't
want, but I believe God used it for a purpose in my life."

That purpose would later be revealed when God called him ten years ago to leave the San Diego Chargers, and to move to New Orleans to help bring hope to a devastated community in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Reflecting on the adversity he's faced in his own life - his parents' divorce when he was little, the arduous rehab following his shoulder surgery, his mom's suicide sometime later - Drew can say that he's learned to practice what he preaches. I love how he likens pain to the refining process of a blacksmith. In words that I came to embrace following my own losses, Brees continues:

"God's refining process is never easy. It's kind of like a blacksmith 
creating a sword. The metal is strengthened when it is repeatedly 
put in the fire and pounded with a hammer. But the end result is 
perfection. All the heat and pounding create a strength and beauty,
not only on the outside, but especially on the inside. God some-
times puts us in the fire, and it's going to hurt, but it will mold 
and shape us into the people he intends for us to be."

I couldn't agree more. I have found it to be true so often in my life. My faith, my belief, has been tried in the fire so many times. But the future hope I now posses...it came through the grind of suffering I once faced repeatedly. My trials produced perseverance which, in turn produced character. And then came hope. As much as I once tried to fight the refining process of the Master Blacksmith, in looking back, I would go through the same thing all over again in order to have what I now possess. When hard times arrive in my life, I don't try to escape them anymore because I know they're for my growth and benefit. 
 When you're in the midst of a season of suffering, I know how hard it is to believe in a better tomorrow. I once struggled with that, too. Faith can lead us all to a future hope, no matter how devastated our lives become. God can, and will, uphold the weak and grant strength to those who trust Him. Those who mourn can, and will be, comforted. Those who weep can, and will, have their tears wiped away by the hand of the Healer. The future can become bright...even when life tells us otherwise.