We seek realistic expectations for ourselves and for our loved one(s) affected by mental illness.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
A study by Dr. Leonard Matheson recently rated characteristics that enhanced one’s quality of life. Hope (confident expectation) had the strongest relationship to a positive quality of life of all the various characteristics. It is like walking into a dark room and having the light switched on. Hope brightens our day and our surroundings. We know from Scripture that Hope is listed as one of the 3 great characteristics along with Faith and Love. And yet we see many individuals struggle with maintaining hope. Having hope is a very human struggle that tends to ebb and flow according to whether our hopes are deferred or fulfilled. Have you ever struggled with bouts of hopelessness and even despair? I know I have. Even the prophets such as Elijah found himself spent physically and emotionally to the point he asked God to take his life. And yet we have examples both Biblical and in real life where individuals maintain their hope in the midst of circumstances that can present as life-threatening at times.
Where does this Hope come from? How do we live with the same Hope? Well…it does not come from ourselves. Romans 15:13 tells us the source of our Hope: “May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” God is called “the God of Hope.” This means He is the source of all real hope. If we are going to have hope (confident expectation), it must come from Him for he alone has the power to provide it.
Daniel of the Old Testament is an individual who maintained his hope in the midst of very trying circumstances. Even through life-threatening circumstances he maintained his vibrant faith. We see in the book of Daniel that he turned to the God of Hope regularly to be strengthened. He continued to pray 3 times a day, even when ordered to not worship anyone but the King.
Long stretches of life can be challenging to our hope. One such example is my friend, Harry. He left his influential and lucrative career to be home with his wife who developed Alzheimer’s. Eventually, his wife moved into the Alzheimer’s Unit at Meramec Bluffs while he moved into an apartment in the same building. He visited her daily even when she did not recognize him. He talked about how painful it was to see her and yet she continued to find comfort in his touch, holding his hand, even when she wasn’t sure who he was. He continued to praise God in the midst of his pain and found hope for both he and his Wife in Christ’s promises, for not just this world but for the eternal life. Several years ago, Harry’s Wife passed away and he went through another season of grief. Outward circumstances seemed to say that the unfaithful and ungodly were living a better life than Harry. However, when he couldn’t see the answers, Harry confidently leaned on God to provide for the present and the future.
Well, Harry made it through a very tough and extended season of compassion and grief for his wife. He kept hope by believing in God’s promises both for what God has accomplished and is continuing to accomplish for our eternal future. After a season, Harry met a lovely Christian widow and they “fell in love.” At 91 he remarried and is as happy as he ever could have asked to be. This “unexpected” sweet gift of love meant that in spite of outward circumstances, he kept his hope, was willing to take a risk with a new beginning, and now together, he and his wife have committed to using this season of their life to serve the Lord together.
One of my ‘hopes’ and perhaps yours as well is to continue growing in my relationship with Christ. As Dr. Gerald May says in his book “Addiction & Grace”’, “It is important to note that the spiritual growth process involves far more relinquishment than acquisition. In our culture, we are conditioned to expect growth to involve the acquisition of new facts and understandings. To put it neurologically, the functional systems of our brains are used for elaborating upon themselves as growth happens… But spiritual growth is different. It cannot be packaged, programmed, or taught. Although some new facts and representations may help us along the way, the essential process is one of transformation, not education. It is, if anything, an unlearning process in which our old ways are cleansed, liberated, and redeemed.
There is a strange sadness in this growing freedom. Our soul may have been scarred by the chains with which our attachments (to beliefs, traditions, expectations) have bound us, but at least they were familiar chains. We were used to them (our beliefs, traditions, expectations). And as they loosen, we are likely to feel a vague sense of loss. (e.g., can God can be loving and my Brother still have a major mental illness?). The things to which we were attached may still be with us, but we no longer give them the ultimate importance we once did. We are like caged animals beginning to experience freedom, and there is something we miss about the cage. P105
As trees grow from seeds that have fallen and died, so must we as Christians oftentimes experience loss/death to our beliefs, hopes, and expectations. And yet we can grow to be strong in our hope which comes from the true source of Hope, Christ Jesus.
“Where there is a belief in the living God, who acts and intervenes in human life and who can be trusted to implement his promises, hope in the specifically biblical sense becomes possible. Such hope is not a matter of temperament, nor is it conditioned by prevailing circumstances or any human possibilities. It does not depend upon what a man possesses, upon what he may be able to do for himself, nor upon what any other human being may do for him. There was, for example, nothing in the situation in which Abraham found himself to justify his hope that Sarah would give birth to a son but because he believed in God, he could ‘in hope’ believe ‘against hope (Romans 4:8) Biblical hope is inseparable therefore from faith in God. Because of what God has done in the past, particularly in preparing for the coming of Christ, and because of what God has done and is now doing through Christ, the Christian dares to expect future blessings at present invisible (2Cor1:10) The goodness of God is for him never exhausted. The best is still to be. (from the New Bible Dictionary (IVP) on Hope)
And so I encourage you to turn to God’s Word regularly, to sing His praises, to tell him when you are struggling and ask Him to fill you with His Hope. He is able and will do this. And then go and bring God’s hope to someone who is stuck in the dark. Go and “turn the light switch on” when you enter the room of others.
Who do you know that can benefit from you “switching on this light of hope?”