this saturday night marked the first week of advent leading up to christmas, a season we celebrate very intentionally at the refuge. it’s a hard time of year for a lot of people i know. it seems like loneliness, depression, fear, and shame seem to set in a little extra. in our community this year we are doing something i have wanted to try for years–a plan to have something to do every day from thanksgiving to new years. we are calling it the “refuge no-suck holiday plan” & it includes a really great mix of community, serving others, movies, coffee conversations & more. it’ll be a fun experiment.
for saturday evenings during advent, the refuge is doing a series called “making room for the unexpected”, focusing on making room for unexpected light, love, joy, and hope. i kicked us off on saturday night (being up & out of the house that long really kicked my post-surgery butt, too, but i was glad i got to be part & now i’m back on the couch). i challenged us to consider is to be open to the possibility of hope this advent. but that hope can be dangerous, in a good and scary way. i thought maybe somewhere along the line i had written on this before, and it turns out i had shared this little piece on the refuge blog in january 2009. it is called “hope is dangerous” and i thought i’d just re-post it here in the spirit of the season of waiting, of anticipation, of hoping.
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hope. it can mean all kinds of things for different people, but i think it mainly implies “expectation.” a possibility that maybe things could be different, that there’s more to this life than just what we see, that there’s something better ahead. many of us, for all kinds of reasons, are afraid to hope. we have seen many of our dreams dashed. jobs lost. relationships crumbled. addictions destroy. God-not-delivering-the-goods-the-way-we-had-hoped. so we hunker down our hearts and do whatever we can to protect it against believing that good is really possible—again, or maybe for the first time. we settle for loneliness. we settle for disconnectedness. we settle for going-through-the-motions. the thought of something more hurts too much. what if we make ourselves vulnerable and hurt again? what if we try and they all get dashed anyway? what if we risk and lose again? the “what if’s” mount, hope gets held at bay, and we miss out on the thing that Jesus kept pointing to over and over and over again—life now. love now. hope now.
and it remains utterly consistent that pretty much everything Jesus calls us to is quite dangerous. so why would hope be different? hope will require a risk. it will require sacrifice. it will require working against our reflexes to run, hide, self-protect, self-medicate. it will require believing in what it unseen. it will mean we will hurt. it will mean we will be afraid. it will mean taking steps on a path we are unfamiliar with.
it will require us letting God’s spirit move in a way in our hearts that is mysterious and scary and maybe unfamiliar. so how do we get over our fear of hope’s dangerous-ness?
here are just a few thoughts:
- admit what we’re really afraid of. is it being afraid to fail? are you afraid of your heart hurting? are you afraid that you’ll just end up mad at God again? what is it that freaks you out about hope? real relationship requires honesty.
- seek courage in the small steps. we sometimes have such a high expectation of ourselves, that we’re supposed to somehow “take the hill” tomorrow, having conquered all that holds us back. that usually just leads to failure & shame & anger toward ourselves for our lack of faith and courage. small steps keep hope alive, especially when we celebrate them together in community.
- expect it to hurt. hope’s gonna hurt. it’s supposed to. it means we are still really alive. Jesus made very clear that following him would mean pain. hardened hearts do not hurt. but soft open hopeful ones are sure to. i think we need to get better at bracing ourselves for hope to hurt.
- recognize that hope in circumstances is not the same as hope in God. over and over in the scriptures the psalmists cry out “we hope in You, God…our hope is not in the world, but in You.” it is so easy to rest our hope in outcomes, tangibles, things-the-way-we-want-them-to-turn-out. this is why real hope is so dangerous, because it means accepting somehow that things may not be how we had hoped but that our hope in God mysteriously supersedes circumstances.
- strain to see God, feel God, hear God wherever you can. i really think we get so blinded by our pain, our fear, our busyness, our self-centeredness that it becomes difficult to experience God’s spirit moving, revealing, challenging, strengthening, encouraging, pushing. especially when hope is waning and our anger or ambivalence is getting the best of us, we will need to strain to see him in small wacky ways that might normally be missed. in the eyes of a friend. in a word of encouragement. in a song. in the mountains. in a crisis. in a scripture. in where-ever-we-feel-a-flicker-in-our-heart-that-reminds-us-God-is-with-us.
yeah, hope is dangerous. i am afraid of it, too, but i sense God nudging me in all kinds of ways to let him fan more and more of it into flame. to risk my pride, my heart, my safety on hope’s behalf.
i love romans 15:13 in the message:
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
this month, as we focus on hope as a community, i pray that we will be people willing to open ourselves up to its dangers. to risk on its behalf. to take steps toward life that scare us. to let God’s spirit move in ways that make our hearts come painfully alive. to let hope propel us to love.
[and in the spirit of this advent season 2010, i'll add: to make room for the unexpected.]
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ps: my friend craig spinks has a set of dvd’s for the advent season focused on the same theme as the refuge–making room for the unexpected. some refuge friends are part & you can watch the one we showed on saturday here. these dvd’s include some really great discussion starters for small groups & are very inexpensive, too.
ppss: some other advent posts i liked: sarah at emerging mummy has a lovely advent prayer, christine sine is starting a new series for advent called jesus is near: how do we draw close, and brittany ouchida-walsh has a beautiful advent 1 piece.