Crisis sculpts a recognizable mask on all its victims. We all have experienced it – the moments when our well-ordered, happy lives seem to suddenly crumble into dust and blow away on the wind. Emotion is stripped from our faces like paint ruthlessly scraped off a once-colorful vase. We feel exposed, vulnerable, raw. In just a moment our lives are changed, and not for the better. Whether we are facing illness, death, or another type of loss, our universe has been tipped upside-down and gradually we realize that this strange, suspended vantage point is our new normal. From here, it is very hard to look into our future (and that could be just a minute from now) and feel hopeful. We wonder – where is God in all of this, how am I going to make it through today, will I ever feel happy again?
When you are on the safe-side of a tragedy, untouched by the horror that has ripped someone’s life apart, it’s much easier to keep perspective. Hope for a supporter is more than a single pin-hole on a mammoth bulletin board. For the sufferer, talk of hope can seem trite, spark anger, or halt conversation. But eventually, grieving people want hope. They begin to search for it; they want to grasp it, even if they don’t believe it’s attainable.
It’s hard to know how to guide hurting people toward hope. They can be so pessimistic, so despondent. A few years ago I stumbled over a caring tool that really works and you don’t have to be a pastor to use it. I was reading a few stories in the Old Testament and I saw a theme. Each time the people of God were facing what seemed to be an insurmountable task, God reminded them of their past. God would say to his worried, skeptical people, “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God wasn’t tooting his own horn. With this single sentence he was calling them to hope. He jogged their memory and helped them recall all of the miraculous things he had done for them. When they were slaves of an oppressive ruler and couldn’t save themselves, he interceded. He loosened their chains, led them out of Egypt unharmed, parted a sea so they could escape chasing soldiers, and guided them through a strange desert, providing water from rock! Ultimately, he led them to a promised, bountiful land. With a single sentence, God reminded them of the testimony of their past. The freedom, guidance, protection and provision that they received from their God in the past would certainly be part of their future.
I can see the people of Israel hunched over campfires, surely planning for their uncertain future, but mostly sharing stories from their past. One story leads to another. Laughter and tears trail through their history, but with each tale, with each testimony of lessons learned and blessings received, hope burns brighter and warmer from within. They lie down to sleep peaceful, hopeful that as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, as certain as their God loves them, there will be a way forward.
Memories are a very important part of finding hope when the future is a shadowy dead-end. Next time you are at a loss, search your memories like you would a photo album or old journal. Look for those pictures and stories where God provided richly for you. Pile them up like a stack of quilts waiting for winter’s chill. Wrap yourself up in these memories, and hope.