Hoping, not Wishing

For A.C.

Dear You,

I have been thinking of you. You have just received news that has upended your life. You probably feel like everything has come to a screeching halt. Your days no longer look the way they used to. You cannot do the things you want to do or had planned to do. Your friends care, but they don’t really understand. Suddenly there is so much space in your life. I imagine you sitting as you watch the world spin on, wondering what just happened and what is next. Your future suddenly holds nothing but question marks.

As Advent begins, I am thinking also of another young woman who received news that upended her life. She had plans for her future—good plans. She probably wasn’t looking for anything different. And yet her whole world changed anyway, without asking for her permission. This woman was visited by an angel, it is true, but still. Suddenly all her plans were gone. She could no longer do the things she wanted to do. Her friends definitely didn’t understand. In fact, most of them probably abandoned her. She too probably sat with too much space to sit and wonder, what next?

In his essay, “Waiting for God,” Henri Nouwen describes the difference between wishing and hoping. “We are full of wishes, and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes. For this reason, a lot of our waiting is not open-ended. Instead, our waiting is a way of controlling the future. We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen we are disappointed and can even slip into despair.”

But hope “is something very different. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended.”

The fact is that these things will come to us. World-changing, life-altering, unlooked-for things. What matters is how we decide to receive them. That’s not to say we must always be happy about it, pasting on a smile we don’t mean. But we do decide whether to hold our hands open to whatever God allows or clench our fists against our wishes being taken away.

I cannot believe that at some point, Mary didn’t weep over the life she had planned out slipping away from her. She must have sometimes grieved the things she had lost. And she must also have struggled with fear about her future. But still she said, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

What if this is how we received? Let it be to me according to your word. Hoping in the promises and not in our wishes.

His word is that he knows the plans he has for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.

His word is that he gives you peace that surpasses all understanding.

His word is that he will never leave you nor forsake you.

His word is that you have an inheritance waiting, more bright and glorious and beautiful and fulfilling than anything you can imagine. And all these afflictions are light and momentary, fleeting in the face of what awaits.

I know it doesn’t feel like that right now. I know the future must feel a bit heavy. And that’s OK, because he is still with you. And maybe you can still wait with your hands open to receive whatever he has for you, because it will be good, if you let him in.

You are beautiful and not forgotten. And I pray you will look not at your wishes but at your hope. Hope in him will never disappoint.

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