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The hard work of hope

"But hope is not a wish. ... Hope is trusting that no matter what pains or tragedies befall us, no matter what darkness envelopes us, no matter what grief we live with, that God is still here."

Photo by Riho Kitagawa on Unsplash

I was seated on the edge of the pool, watching my children splash in the water with their friends. Seated beside me was the mom of my daughter’s new preschool friend. We struck up a conversation, which quickly moved to the inevitable first question of: “What do you do?” As a pastor, I never know what kind of reaction I’ll get to my “job.” Sometimes folks tell me where they worship. Sometimes I hear why they’ve stopped going to church. Sometimes I hear an entire life story. Sometimes I hear confessions and life trials. Sometimes I receive a muttered, “huh, interesting.” But on the edge of the pool that day I heard a new response that has forever touched my heart. When I said I was the local Presbyterian pastor, this woman insightfully said, “That must be so hard: giving people hope every week.”

Hope is hard work, she said.

God spoke to me that day through a conversation with a stranger. At the time (summer 2021), I was on a pastoral sabbatical and attempting to edge off burnout that persisted as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on. Now a year and a half later, I still treasure her words in my heart. They gave me a renewed understanding of my faith walk. The hard work of hope is the good work of ministry. Hope is hard, which is precisely why we need to keep going.

The hard work of hope is the purest, most basic description of what we do as the church of Jesus Christ. We hope. Yet, we don’t always define our work as “hope work.” For example, when a church writes its MIF (Ministry Information Form) for a new pastor, the Pastor Nominating doesn’t check off “help us hope” in the required skills section. Whenever a pastor posts their PIF (Pastor Information Form), they don’t write an essay stating their main objective as: “hoper.” Yet, day after day, the church works hard to be hope for its community. Week in and week out, God’s people preach hope in midst of everyday struggles. Year after year, we faithfully live in hope for what God will do next. Generation after generation, the body of Christ brings hope to a weary and broken world.

We hope right in the middle of the hard.

We proclaim a light shining in the deepest darkness. We sing about good news of great joy for all people. We believe that a baby, born in a barn is the hope of the world. We tell the story of God becoming flesh, born in pain and blood, among the animals, and the muck. We stand in awe at the hope of the Magi, who followed the sky in search of God. We hope beyond hope as we read of this young family, fleeing to Egypt to save the life of the Son of God. We light candles to shine hope when the world is at its darkest point.

Yet, too often we throw around that “hope” word as if it doesn’t have this deep, profound meaning. We say: “I hope you have a good day.” Or “I hope it stops raining.” Or “I hope my team wins” or “I hope for a white Christmas” or “I hope you have a Happy New Year.” We use the word “hope” in place of the word “wish.” But hope is not a wish. Hope is not an ask for happiness. Hope is trusting that no matter what pains or tragedies befall us, no matter what darkness envelopes us, no matter what grief we live with, that God is still here. Hope is knowing that our loving and merciful God walks alongside us, enfleshed among us, shining a light in the darkest night.

No matter our “jobs” or livelihoods, “hoper” is on all our resumes. For God has called each and every one of us to the vocation of hope. We hope in the face of fears. We hope in the face of sorrows. We hope in the face of hardship. Every day, we keep going. Every day, we hope. Hope may be hard work, but as Apostle Paul reminds us, “hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5).