Chronic Conditions and the Gift of Hope

Joel’s neck pain has only increased over the past two years, in spite of surgery to fuse two ruptured discs, physical therapy, chiropractics, ever increasing doses of painkillers and  myriad other efforts.  Once he could handle limited physical activity; he is now restricted to almost no physical activity. Once he could manage a few days of some work. Not any more. Once he could enjoy a relaxing evening with the family. Now he barely tolerates every waking moment. Sleep is illusive. Hope is too.

The consequences of shattered hope are pretty obvious; depression, lack of motivation, loss of appetite, inability to sleep and spiritual ennui just to name a few. When my heart sinks to a place where I refuse to allow the rays of God’s goodness to light a path of hope, I find these dark tendencies vying for a role in my mind games.  It does not stop with me though. This internal struggle seeps out in the way I relate to others. Thus the consequences of my own hopelessness, breed hopelessness into the world around me.

On the other hand, however, the consequences of maintaining hope are not always as obvious. The first ones to surface are usually the converse of the seedy list of desperation listed above. Instead of depression, desperation, and lack of motivation ,hope builds in me a motivation toward good.

Victor Frankl shares his perspective on this in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. He tells his own heart-breaking story of abuse and horror in the death camps of Auschiwtz and Dachue. Everything about his life at that point was pure misery. His family was dead, and all around him he saw suffering and death; the bitter cold, fear, starvation, sickness, vermin, beatings, and verbal abuse were daily fare. Frankl credits his own survival through these torturous times to the hope that he clung to. He never lost hope that one day he would be rescued. On the other hand, he watched prisoners who did lose hope. Suddenly and inexplicably, they no longer had any drive or motivation to survive. No amount of cajoling or encouragement by other prisoners would move them. Instead, they would lie in their bunk, immovable until shortly they died. Hopelessness literally leads to death, while hope brings life.

But how do I maintain hope in broken, chronic situations? It’s not that I don’t want to hope. It’s just that hope is often hard to find. I think David, the man after God’s heart can relate. My journey through the Psalms, often finds him crying out for God to rescue him. In the midst of great strife, David cried out in Psalms 27, “I am confident that I shall yet see the goodness of the Lord in this life…” Hope is a gift from God himself.

David’s hope in the Lord, in spite of his enemies’ dogged pursuit, drew others to him. As a matter of fact, in a short while he had a ragtag band of 600 outcasts who had gathered to him, willingly submitting to his leadership. These hopeless wanderers, found hope in this man of God, lived out his hope in God no matter how difficult the circumstances. David is a shining example of the consequences of hope. It bleeds out of us into the lives of the hopeless around us, sparking their curiosity.

Hope gives my testimony depth.  When I choose, like David to doggedly pursue God, and believe that “The Lord is good,  stronghold in a time of trouble,” I find that nothing in this life lasts forever–not the fun, the enjoyable, the delightful, or the painful, ugly and broken. Because our hope is tied up in the person of Jesus, I can believe in the good of eternity! That doesn’t mean I don’t hope in His direct involvement and intervention in Joel’s pain here in this life. It simply means my hope goes beyond that.  Hope validates the truth I live by.

The Apostle Peter admonished believers to, “Be ready always to give an answer for the hope that lies in you.” (1 Pet. 3:15) Clearly the expectation behind this verse, is that hope will manifest itself in some obvious way that will cause those around us to be curious. The curiosity-building effect of hope is astounding to me.  What a tremendous opportunity hope affords in this life! Chronic conditions may persist, but so will my hope. Because God is worthy of my total confidence no matter what! And others will see His worthiness as I live what I claim to believe.

 


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