This Hope

I had been standing behind her in the check-out line at the gas station for five or six minutes as she painstakingly made her selections. She tapped her pointed finger against the plastic display case, indicating on item after another.

I’d witnessed similar demonstrations of agonizing indecision — typically with young children when they are presented with the delicious dilemma of selecting a favorite candy at the movies or a donut at the bakery.

But she wasn’t a child. She was an older lady with a worn canvas bag slung over her shoulder. The front of the bag was covered with pins and buttons — photos of family, perhaps her grandchildren.

And she wasn’t selecting candy or a treat; she was purchasing lottery tickets.

She had two ten dollar bills clutched in her hand, and she seemed intent on spending at least half that amount on the tickets. Nearing the ten dollar mark, she worried aloud about the fact that she really wanted to buy another Gold Rush Doubler scratch off, but it was two dollars; adding that ticket to her purchase would push her total beyond the ten dollars she apparently had intended to spend.

As she muttered a bit under her breath, my heart lurched in my own chest.

The price of her hope hung in the balance.

Shifting her weight from foot to foot, she finally sighed loudly, shoved both crumpled bills across the counter, and exhaled, “Ah heck. Here’s hoping!”

The cashier carefully stacked and counted the lottery tickets and slid them across the dirty counter back towards the lady, who quickly snatched them up.

As she turned to leave, tickets clutched to her chest and cheeks flushed, our eyes briefly met.

And my heart ached.

The Claw Machine

It’s nearly the same feeling I had when my kids were very young and they would beg to take a chance on my least favorite invention of all time: the dreaded claw machine.

It’s always so enticing: a giant glass case filled with fluffy stuffed animals and trinkets. Treasures just waiting to be acquired. And that claw — so big, so strong — what couldn’t that claw grab onto?

The situation looks promising. It oozes hope.

And that hope often gains strength as your child enters the coins, shifts the lever this way and that, presses the button to drop the claw. All eyes riveted to the silver claw, it squeezes around a stuffed animal and lifts, and slides . . . slides . . . slides. . .  carefully toward home.

Yet, inevitably, just before reaching its destination, the claw weakens, the stuffed animal slips and finally plops back into the pile of similarly just-missed prizes.

When my kids would ask to try to claw, I would always refuse, telling them that those machines were broken or rigged and would never, ever, reward their hope in them.

But my husband, maybe a bit more optimistic than I am, a bit more of a risk-taker, and not so overly dramatic and serious about life, would sometimes intervene and allow them to take a chance at it. In these instances, I would hold my breath and actively (though secretly) wish against their success.

And most of the time, I was happy to be proven soundly right. See kids? Lesson learned!

But once, when my son was four or five years old, my worst fear was realized, and the worst of all possible outcomes occurred:

The claw machine actually rewarded his hope with a toy.

From that point on, not only did he ask to try every claw machine he saw; he also had a seed of hope planted deep in his little heart, the belief that the claw machine could reward him. After all, it did so “that one time.

But, if you have ever encountered a claw machine yourself, or any arcade game, really — you know that this was false hope. Though he was successful once, he has never been successful at beating the claw machine again.

I’d like to smugly enjoy the satisfaction of being right about this . . . but I can’t.

Because mostly what I feel when I see the claw machine is the pain of misplaced hope, the ache of broken promises.

False Hope

I realize I’m blowing this silly childhood game way out of proportion, but the part of my brain that tries to make sense of the world grabs ahold of moments like this one and constructs a belief like this:

Our world teases and breaks us, every one, with empty promises and false hope.

And this feeling came rushing back in upon me as I watched the older lady walk out of the gas station. Scratching her lotto cards as she walked across the street and down the sidewalk, her shoulders slumping a bit lower with each defeated step.

We so often clutch desperately to false hope.  We so often pay dearly with our currency, our energy, our self-worth, to purchase hope in the form of promises that will never be fulfilled.

“Here’s hoping my luck will change.”

“Here’s hoping my family will be restored.”

“Here’s hoping he’ll finally love me.”

“Here’s hoping this will prove I’m good enough.”

This kind of hope, like tossing pennies in a well, is the cruelest hope of all. We can picture a need met or anticipate a desire reached — it’s right in our line of sight, right there ready to be grasped.

But it is just as likely to flit away or dissolve altogether as it is to rest in our hands.

Nothing in this world can give us true hope.

It’s all lotto tickets and claw machines.

It’s all false advertising and empty promises.

We may even realize that our false hopes are counterfeit, but we cling to them because somehow we believe they are all we have.

Everything — every possession, every circumstance, every relationship — is a propped up replica of true Hope. Like a cardboard cut-out of a person, these things look like hope. They look like they have the power to save us. And every once in a great while, just like the tricky claw machine and like games of chance — every once in a while, our possessions, circumstances, and relationships appear to make our lives better and seem to make us secure.

But it doesn’t take very long on this earth to learn that our self-made versions of hope will not sustain us. Our possessions will rot or be destroyed, our circumstances will bring us difficulties or leave us without recourse, our relationships will tangle into knots or fall inexplicably apart.

However —

Jesus. Changes. Everything.

Coming to see that no possession, circumstance, or relationship can promise lasting hope may leave us feeling lost and desolate. But the Bible tells us over and over that we DO have hope — and His name is Jesus.

1 Peter 1:3 declares, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Paul speaks of hope in Romans 15:13 when he says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

And again, in Titus 1:1-2, Paul identifies himself as a “servant of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith in God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.”

The book of Proverbs assures us that we can have lasting hope: “Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” Proverbs 24:14.

Scripture is deliberate in distinguishing the Hope offered by Jesus from the false “hope” offered by the world. Hebrews 6:19 says  “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”

The writer of Hebrews expressly characterizes the hope offered by Jesus as an anchor. An anchor is heavy and its purpose is to plant and remain unmoved. An anchor will not be dragged away from its designated position. It will not drift or be destroyed.

Anchors are also often placed away from the ship, securing a position and ensuring that the vessel moves in the right direction. Jesus not only secures us as an anchor would, but the hope we have in Jesus “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.” Behind the curtain of our mortal life, in the spiritual realm, Jesus saves a place for us.

In referring to our hope in Jesus, scripture is exquisitely particular:

I have THIS hope.

Not some other hope.
Not just any hope.
Not an empty hope.

I have THIS hope.

The hope of Jesus entering into my sin, breaking my chains, and setting me free.

The hope of Jesus changing me and making me brand new.

The hope of His grace permeating my life,

cleansing and rebuilding it from the inside out.

The hope of eternal life in His presence.

The hope of sharing in His unending goodness & glory.

Hope beyond any hope we can imagine, and Hope more sure than any certainty we have ever known.

Find His Hope

Friend, please don’t settle for flimsy, counterfeit hope.

Jesus purchased something so much better for us when He died on the cross for our sins. At such a high price, he didn’t purchase for us a shoddy hope, a sometimes or once-in-awhile or most-of-the-time hope. We do not have to go through life with a “here’s hoping” attitude, tossing our pennies into a well, crossing our fingers or holding our breath. We do not have to purchase false hope for ourselves through life’s games of chance.

Rather, our Hope has already been secured and at a high price:

The blood of Jesus purchased for us this one, particular HOPE —

the hope of salvation and sanctification,

the hope that he would save us and change us and make us like Him.

Don’t lose a moment getting your hands on that kind of hope.

My Prayer

This is my prayer:  Dear God, please help me to open my hands and release all my counterfeit hopes. Please break me free from the bonds of any belief I have in false promises made to me by this world. Make the radical and certain hope of Jesus Christ more and more clear to me. Please open my heart and help me to grab ahold of the truth of salvation and the work of sanctification available to me through the blood of Jesus. Thank you for Jesus; thank you for true and lasting hope.

Amen.

 

*Check out Tenth Avenue North’s song “I Have This Hope” and lead singer Mike Donehey’s video journal about the song’s origins and meaning.

 

 

Briana McDonough
“I’m a wife, mommy, teacher, writer, reader, and child of God.”

 

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