My brother sent me a joke earlier this week. “After my free seven-day trial I am returning 2021 as it has not lived up to my expectations.”
Ten days into this new calendar year and nothing much seems to be getting better. Covid is resurgent, and despite advances in medical technology that offer hope in the coming months, right here and right now things are fairly grim. Meanwhile, events in America are truly alarming.
Once again it is hard to know where to look for hope, for comfort and encouragement. In a long phone conversation with a friend and colleague a week or so ago, I listened as he told me that until very recently he’d believed that things were basically getting better but now he wasn’t at all sure. I knew exactly what he meant and how he felt.
At times like these I think it is helpful to begin by recognising that disappointment is among the most elemental of all emotions. When our hopes are disappointed, when our expectations are frustrated, things happen in our brains that make us feel really terrible. These are not trivial feelings to be suppressed by effort, but deep wounds to be acknowledged.
In the film Clockwise starring John Cleese there is a line that expresses it well – ‘I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.’ Allowing ourselves to hope at all can begin to seem foolish, even immature. What’s the point in looking forward to anything only to find yourself disappointed?
Yet our Christian faith tells us that despair is a sin and hope is a virtue.
Should we then commit ourselves to a relentless and unrealistic optimism, the kind that can so easily drive those around us into a reactive despair?! Of course not. Christian hope is not in the least unrealistic and has very little in common with optimism. It is, rather, that aspect of our faith that trusts that the future is in God’s hands.
Few people in the history of the Church have understood this better than Mother Julian of Norwich. Julian’s most often quoted words are justly famous: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ (These actually appear in her writings as words spoken to her by Jesus.) This is not because life will be plain sailing, nor yet because we will be spared the pains and disappointments that are common to our human condition, but rather because our eternal destiny is safe in the hands of God who loves us.
May that same God refresh your hope, and may God bless you all,