I watched a video last week that showed a young man standing in a field talking about how Christians, too often, water down their message to blend in with the world. That we were called to be set apart and to be known as different from the rest of the world around us. We shouldn’t worry about trying to be popular or well liked, on this journey with Jesus, but instead pick up our cross, even at the cost of ostracization, and solider on.
And I’d agree with that, but only as long we are picking up the right cross.
I think we as the church have spent a long time picking up the wrong cross, and finding ourselves bewildered that the “World” doesn’t want what we are selling. We have the right arrangement of words, we know the songs to sing, we wear the right things to Church on Sunday. We proclaim the glory of the chain-breaking, miracle-working, law-of-nature-defying Jesus. We muddle our way through loving people wholly and without reservation. And we tell the world that our greatest hope, our greatest source of peace and comfort, is Jesus.
But I think the magnitude of that hope gets lost in translation. Or maybe it gets lost in us.
Our good news is, as it has always been, this indescribable hope. We have hope that good is coming, that the pain will end, that the dawn will break, that somehow all of the chaos and grief and struggle will all be woven into something beautiful in the end. We have hope that we are not alone, not forgotten. That we are pressed, but we are not crushed. That we have a safe place to run when the world threatens to crash in and overtake us.
We have this hope because of who we know God to be, who He has proven Himself to be over and over again – but I think we miss it when we sell the hope without the struggle. And I don’t mean the supposed “war” on American Christianity, or red cups at Starbucks. I mean the earth-moving, soul-wrenching, gaping-wound kind of struggle. The fear, doubt and uncertainty that you don’t let out in mixed company, lest someone start quoting bits of scripture at you without first helping to hold and make room for your heartache.
The kind of struggle and agony that makes you doubt God and His goodness, because a good God cannot possibly allow this to happen to people that He loves. The kind of pain that leaves you angry, broken and desperate. The kind that feels like it will never end, and that leaves you wondering if it might be stronger than your ability to survive. The kind that makes a church, who is more concerned with the message of hope than the need for it, viscerally uncomfortable.
This indescribable hope has room for the doubt, anger and fear that is brought out in us during the struggle. It has room for our bruises and our tear-stained faces. It has room for our work to set boundaries and our thousand small victories mixed in with ten thousand huge defeats. It has room for our agony because of the very nature of hope. Hope is not enduring belief in the absence of pain, worry, doubt or struggle, but rather that glimpse of new life, of worth, of purpose that pokes up through the ground in the midst of it all.
This gentle, enduring hope, that stares down insurmountable odds and certain failure. This hope that will take root, even in the most desolate conditions. This hope that can be attacked from all sides, and may seem lost in the darkest moments, but is never very far from being revived. Even at its weakest, it gives life and the strength to push on just a little bit further.
Our hope is that we are seen, known and never forgotten by the One who has seen it all. It is that the One who spoke earth into being will always be the Father who sees us while we are still a long way off and runs to meet us, putting His robes on our bodies and His rings on our fingers. That there is no end to the Grace we are given freely. That there is no rock bottom we can find that sees us abandoned or deserted. That we, despite the parts of our lives that would otherwise discredit us, or make us less than worthy, are treasured. We are so deeply cared for, even when can’t begin to pay it back or reciprocate.
We are forever caught in tiny, fleeting moments of serendipity that together make up a symphony of hope. This is what is so attractive about our Jesus. The foolish, unbelievable tenacity of His love for, and belief in, us.
Not our on trend aesthetic, not our contemporary or traditional worship services, not our brand or our labels. Not our stances on how people dress or don’t dress their bodies, not our stances on how to define the “right” people, not our moral high ground. Not anything that we, as model Christians, want to list on our Righteousness Resume.
That never gives up on us, that never loses faith in us, that never stops calling out the best in us, and that endures through every circumstance. Beautiful, unbelievable, indescribable hope.