On Christmas morning, I padded around the house in my slippers, stepping over remnants from the annual Christmas show the night before — the one the children have performed for us since a friend first suggested it as their family’s favorite tradition.
For the months leading up to this day, one of mine had drank deep gulps of negativity — the kind I recognize from my twenties. The kind that is both fueled and understood in light of a broken history. My little girl had reason to think that any given day might not be a “good day.” Her early years were stained with many not-so-good days.
The Christmas show, as with many good and beautiful things, felt like a set-up. For ones who struggle to hope even the very best things get translated into opportunities for the very worst. This particular child had made a habit of it. It felt easier for her to assume that a tear in the hem would mean the whole dress would unravel. Those feeling hope-less always hedge their bets.
This night was no different. The music was off cue and the curtain didn’t rise at the right time and one child melted in fear of the audience’s eyes — all which might easily lead her to what many adults find themselves saying: “figures. I should’ve known this would happen.”
Except something shifted in such a surprising way that I didn’t see it until the whole show was over. My little girl — the one who hedges her bets — she carried the show. She was Herod and Joseph and Mary (all at once), playing the roles of siblings who, themselves, were folding back stage under all the unexpected glitches. She stood, poised and confident, when given real reason to think that this night they’d been rehearsing for months might just be terrible. She was radiant. Perhaps the most radiant I’d ever seen her.
The child with a loaded history and a scary night — the child with real reason to live a measured and calculated existence, spying out every challenge in advance and bracing herself for the worst, as she had done often before — hoped. She leaned in to the God-Man who is hope.
And His light in her was brilliant.
Hope does that to a person.
Not the Hallmark hope — the kind that feels like warm and cozy vapor, available when we need a boost but not weighty enough to really move our insides — but the kind birthed through sweat and ache that leans, weak and needy, into the chest of the One who made us, all when it would be much easier to grow cynical and hardened.
Real hope is forged.
And it’s stunning.
It reflects this Jesus, when you see it eke through the life of a person who has any of a myriad of tangible reasons not to hope, and it tethers us to the truth that our true reality is not about what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands.
We hope or we die, on the inside.
So I pad circles around the first floor on Christmas morning and stop to stare across to the woods in our front yard and I can’t help but notice the harshness of winter on what felt lush just a few months earlier. Those trees look dead. Long dead.
I hear the whisper of that word that He has been speaking to me all month: hope.
Hope in Jesus is like staring at the winter-worn tree and expecting a shoot. It’s looking at dead, dry bones of circumstance and story and relationships and dreams and expecting that they could become radiant with Him. Telling them to breathe. It’s making His Word, in our minds, more real than what we see.
It’s not careful and it’s full of foolishness and it’s certainly not safe, by any of the standards around us. To stand, day after day, at the base of that winter tree and watch for life would be a great waste … for the heart that hasn’t yet known the ever-expanding value of hope in Jesus.
So we wait on this thing — this barren womb or this child who’s still wounded or this broken body or this empty bank account with no sign of a new job or this [insert yours here] — with an option of how to wait.
When I move my often-stubborn heart towards waiting with expectancy that God can do what I could not fathom being done, instead of sitting cynical and refusing this risky hope, my heart expands. It grows. For and towards Him.
I practice hope with what is right in front of me at the moment so that I can build a lifetime of expanding my heart in hope for Him, just Him. Him, forever.
Expectancy builds capacity for God.
Christmas show glitches and unpaid bills and empty bedrooms and broken bodies and staring at the dead-tree of winter while waiting for spring are all the practice runs. They’re practice runs inviting us to look at Him, with expectancy, and not at what we see right in front of us. He shines, here. Radiates. And our insides expand a little wider.
Then we grow in hope, the waiting kind of hope.
Until the next practice run.
And thousands of practice runs get strung together across our life, ushering us into a fearsome kind of expectancy of God. A forever expectancy.
We can’t grow, in Him, without this impractical, “irrational” hope.
Real hope opens us to see Jesus as He really is.
Wild. Uncomely. And radiant.
(Yes, even while we wait. Especially, while we wait.)
Making it practical: His word is better than Hallmark and Biblical hope might just turn the most deep-run cynic into one who prays with the roof off.
Read on: Psalm 34:5 | Romans 5:3-5 | Hebrews 6:13-20 | Hebrews 11:1-3 | Romans 8:5-11, 18-25 | Ezekiel 37