Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is the Thing With Feathers”, has long been a favorite of mine, and I memorized it years ago. She compares hope to a plucky little bird, who can’t and won’t be silenced and who perches quietly in the soul. As Christians, we know her to be describing one of the crown jewels of the Christian faith, and what it exclusively offers.
I’ve been quietly pondering hope the last little while, and wondering what it looks like to live and give hope in the year that is 2020. Anxiety and fear were palpable in Walmart today. People scooted their buggies away from each other and didn’t smile and chatter like they used to to. Worry lines were visible above masks. The air seemed thick with tension. But as I’ve been turning these things over in my head, and reading the beautiful and ancient words in Scripture, I’ve found a few ways to build and cultivate hope during these uncertain times:
- Live out of what I know and not out of what is unknown. Here are a few questions I can’t know the answers to: Are we living in the end times? Are we headed for a one-world government? What will happen if either Trump or Biden gets elected in November? What is the economy going to do? To what extent is power and corruption a part of the pandemic and response? Are we looking at upcoming persecution?
When I start living out of these unknowns and turning them into the lens through which I make my decisions, I quickly fall into anxiety and despair. And hope, the feathery companion that warbles and chirps, gets quieter and quieter.
Instead, living out of what I do know is not only reassuring at a soul level, but it also gives me something meaningful to give to others. Here are the things that I can know: If we are in the end times, I’m that much closer to meeting my Savior. How is that a terrible thing? I follow Jesus, who breathed out the stars, and who holds all things together. I belong to Him, and no Presidential election or world government can shake my standing in Him. He doesn’t owe me health or a nice life in exchange for my surrender. My resources are His, and many people do with far less than I have. Even if I’m being misled or lied to about things like pandemics, what God asks of me doesn’t change. He has promised to be with His children, even to the ends of the earth.
The difference in living between the unknown and the known is the difference between worry lines and squinty-smiley-eyes above masks.
- Worship music. Not just playing it, but singing along to it. There is something powerful in joining your voice to others who are exalting and worshiping God.
- Gratitude. I’ve found that the most vibrant, hope-giving people are openly thankful, maybe even for the most insignificant things. There is always, always something to be grateful for.
- Documentaries that tell stories of other victorious- through- difficulty children of God. Tortured For Christ, by Voice of the Martyrs is challenging to watch. I was thoroughly convicted but also deeply inspired. There is something reassuring in a Faith that runs through the ages, through fire and persecution and that I’m a part of today. Another good documentary is When Things Seem Impossible, about missionaries who were ambushed by guerrillas and their miraculous escape. We tend to think that whatever circumstances we find ourselves in are especially bad, but watching these lets us zoom out and see that our problems aren’t unique, but not in a misery-loves-company way 🙂
- Making eye-contact with people and offering as many warm smiles as I can. The truth is, with the pandemic and racial tensions, we are all looking at each other with a lot of suspicion. I’ve found at my job, when I can make direct eye contact and smile, there’s often a lot of face relaxing and smiles given in return.
As Christians, we live with incredible blessings and hope, and that sets us apart from those without God. Can they see a difference? Do they see worry lines or squinty-smiley-eyes above our masks? Do they hear us complaining about how dire everything is or about God’s faithfulness? Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were to be said of God’s children, “Yeah, 2020 was a crazy year but there were those people who smiled through their masks and said cheery things to others. You couldn’t help but be encouraged. It’s like they knew something we didn’t.”
“And sweetest in the gale is heard, and rough would be the storm, that could abash the little bird, that kept so many warm.”
Instead of giving others the gift of our opinions and chiding reprimands to a world almost crazy with fear, what would happen if we’d give the gift of hope?