Hope isn’t neat and tidy. Healing doesn’t come overnight. We have this saying, “Time heals all wounds,” but I don’t think there is much truth to this sentiment.
Losing my mom
Four years ago, on October 15, 2013, my mom had a massive heart attack and died suddenly. There was no warning — just a late-night phone call from my dad telling me my mom was gone.
I put on my best pastor face and acted like nothing was wrong, like I was strong, when the truth was I was hurting. This isn’t a story about how I struggled and now I am doing just fine. The truth is, I’m not.
I have good days and bad days, good seasons and bad seasons. Four years has not been enough to heal this wound of grief. The hope I cling to desperately in Christ gives me strength, but some days that hope is like cell service in my rural county: it comes and it goes depending on where I am.
The foundation of hope
Sometimes, in our sermons and Bible studies and Christian living books, we make our spiritual lives seem easy. Much of our church culture in America prepares us to wear religious masks instead of giving us a foundation for the suffering and trials of this life.
We use words like “authentic” and “real” and tell people to come as they are, but most of the time we don’t prepare them for real life, for the pain of loss and suffering. We are so concerned with three ways to a better marriage or three ways to find victory in this or that area of our lives that we miss much of the focus of the New Testament, which is to prepare the church to walk through afflictions.
Jesus knew the pain and grief of this life intimately. He experienced it firsthand. He saw what sickness, disease and death could do to the human body and to those who witness their loved ones walk through these trials.
In Mark 7:34, Jesus heals a deaf man. As he is healing this man, Jesus looks up to heaven and Mark tells us he sighs. This sigh is not exasperation; it is a deep groan at the brokenness of this world.
Imagine being Jesus and seeing the sick, the possessed and the broken. The crowds continue to gather day in and day out, and they are filled with hurting people seeking healing and peace. Jesus sighs because he knows the deep pain of the human race.
In John 11, he weeps at the loss of Lazarus and the grief of Mary and Martha. He weeps because he sees the pain and separation of death. Jesus knows our grief. He knows our loss. He sighs for us and groans for the redemption and restoration to come. He is a high priest who sympathizes with us in our suffering and pain (Hebrews 4) because he walked through suffering we can’t even begin to comprehend. He was acquainted with sorrow and grief.
This is our hope. Jesus is our hope. His death and his resurrection as the down payment of our future resurrection and the restoration of all we have lost in our broken world is our hope.
But, sometimes it is hard to hold on to hope. Hope is not static. We have to fight for hope, and sometimes we have to admit when we are struggling to hold on to hope.
Our fight for faith
I love the cry of the father of the boy with an unclean spirit in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!” This is my prayer. I believe, Lord. I believe Jesus will restore all I have lost. I believe all the years my mom misses of her grandchildren will be given back in eternity. I believe the eternal weight of glory will make the affliction of this world seem light and momentary by comparison.
But, some days this belief is awfully weak. Some moments, all I have is a sigh and a groan. Sometimes, the wound opens back up. The tide of grief comes roaring back in and my faith seems small. I believe; help my unbelief!
Biblical hope is not easy and it is not tidy. We must fight for faith day in and day out, and some days we lose this fight. It is OK to confess our unbelief. It is OK to struggle with faith. Hope has room for doubt.
The foundation for our hope is not the strength of our belief; it is the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Our hope is in the empty tomb as the down payment for our own empty graves and for the transformation of all creation from death to life.
Even when belief is hard, we must cling to Jesus.
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas.