Ask any Midwesterner about “fake spring” and they’ll surely have a story for you about packing away all the coats on a warm day only to have to pull the winter gear back out the next week. While I’m all for a shortened winter, I think these false-start spring days have something to teach us about the spiritual practice of living expectantly — even when we don’t feel particularly hopeful.
We brought our newborn son home from the hospital on Easter. Tucking a pastel green blanket around him and pulling a knitted cap over his head, I marveled at how much he resembled an Easter egg. After a long winter and an even longer pregnancy, it would finally be spring — the season of new life! And then, as we arrived on our doorstep, the wind howled, clouds covered the sun, and it started snowing.
My baby cried. So did I.
A couple weeks into the winter-that-wouldn’t-end, the sun reemerged and offered us an unseasonably warm day. Had we fast-forwarded over spring and gone right into summer? I knew it was too good to be true — the day before we’d been wearing puffy coats. I squeezed my postpartum body into a sundress, put the baby in his carrier, and located two matching shoes for my always-moving toddler. We were going on a walk. We were going to seize the summer day!
And seize it we did. I sat on the park bench and slipped my tired feet from my sandals, wiggling my toes in the sandbox and letting myself breathe in hope that while the beautiful forecast wouldn’t last through the week, it was also true that winter wouldn’t last forever. I watched my toddler conquer the playground, and as I felt the sun on my face, I also felt a glimmer of hope that the postpartum exhaustion wouldn’t stretch over my body and soul forever. Better days were ahead.
And then, wouldn’t you know? The very next day, it snowed.
But I’ve never minded false-start sunny days. Hope deferred is still hope. We need the small offerings of hope in our lives to remind us that just as there is darkness around us, light is near too.
From heartbreaking headlines to the everyday aches and anxieties that come with being human, we have every reminder that the world isn’t as it should be. And that’s why we have to cling to the promise of hope, even if hope itself still feels out of reach.
On that warm spring day years ago, I knew there were bound to be more cold days to come. I knew my circumstances weren’t going to suddenly change. I was in a difficult and demanding season of life that wasn’t going to improve with the changing of the natural seasons. But the warmth of the sun tethered me to the reminder that even though life didn’t feel particularly hopeful, hope was on the horizon. Someday, my baby wouldn’t be colicky. Someday, my toddler would potty train.
The expectancy of hope was enough.
Each headline feels heavier than the last these days. I find myself wondering how much pain our tender human hearts can hold. It’s in these moments that I need spiritual eyes to see glimmers of hope in hard times.
The expectancy of hope begets hope.
It’s that whisper deep in our souls that reminds us though life might not be better right now, or even in the foreseeable future, the sun will shine again someday. It’s why we’re drawn to a video of a little girl singing “Let It Go” in a bomb shelter. It’s why our hearts ache to share laughter with loved ones even as we gather to grieve the loss of another. These glimmers of hope don’t fix anything, but they keep us going.
The promise of hope begets hope.
It’s easy to close up our hearts and say hope is too far gone from a season, situation, or person. But it’s the braver choice to have the audacity to believe hope will return to our hearts even so. Even if. Even when.
In Mark 9, a man is desperate for relief for his son who is having seizures. He begs Jesus to help his child, and says, “I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” In times when hope seems lost, maybe the best we can do is get really honest with the One who knows every ache of our heart by praying this prayer: I hope. Help me in my hopelessness.
We cannot change the weather just as we cannot stop a warring world. But we can hold tight to the expectancy of hope. This is not the end. Despair does not have the final say. Cynicism won’t win. Winter won’t last forever.
Holding onto the expectancy of hope is not ignorant optimism. It’s not frilly or fanciful, but rather it sits in the pain and pushes through it. Hope is dirt under our fingernails as we plant tulip bulbs in the fall, believing that even though the days are going to get darker and colder, spring will someday come. Hope is us raking soggy leaves into piles to make way for shoots of green grass that will burst forth — maybe not tomorrow or next week or next month but someday.
The expectancy of hope is defiant. It’s a stubborn, gritty belief that even when our worlds are caving in, the groans of creation will not last forever.
We can come to Jesus with our most honest of prayers: I don’t have hope right now. But with Your help, I have hope that someday, I will have hope again.
Making space in our souls for hope even when nothing seems hopeful doesn’t ignore the seasons of winter in our lives or the very real suffering in our world but believes the truth that suffering does not have the final say.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
For more simple, honest prayers for when you don’t have the words, Kayla Craig’s book To Light Their Way has a whole section of simple Scripture-inspired breath prayers for when you need to borrow a little hope.