Faith and hope are two independent elements that are necessary for sound mental health. Christians do not like to acknowledge this but we have mental health challenges that often go unchecked. The hospital that is church often engorges us with pain killers and anti-inflammatory agents that have a temporary effect on the root of the issue. Dynamic sermons and a genuine environment of love leaves us feeling refreshed. But no matter how sound the doctrine or authentic the fellowship, once we leave out and re-enter the “real world” the breakdown of what we believe and what we see begins. While this is not a blog entry on mental health, it really is the struggle that everyone has and will deal with as our mental status -our perspective- is often established by what we see and experience and how this aligns or misaligns with what we believe. The greater the distance between belief and experience, the more it can affect our soundness of mind. When life does not want to make sense it can cause confusion thus resulting in stress and anxiety pursuant to hopelessness, depression joined with apathy and resulting in not a small number of cases of suicide.
Faith can simply be defined as what someone believes in. This can be a person or a cause or an establishment. Hope can be defined as the belief that something will happen, often times stemming from that which one has faith in. Faith is timeless whereas hope is temporal. I can live in faith and not be disappointed from start to finish but hope has to be realized before it is replaced by other elements, namely hopelessness and despair.
Proverbs 13:12 New King James Version (NKJV)
12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
A broken heart is when what is hoped for is denied, cancelled, removed or otherwise not realized. This leads me to believe that I may have faith to believe in God that He can but that I can struggle to have to hope that He will.
Historically, the black man in America, to use just a single word, has been disenfranchised. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America has long since declared that that reality of this disenfranchisement should not be, yet it persisted and persists to this day. The Tuskegee Airmen, the Buffalo Soldiers, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment were all undrafted military personnel comprised of mostly to all African-Americans. They believed in the ideals of America (faith) and fought for them with the hope that these ideals would be extended to the experience all Americans in the near future. In other words their faith placed them but their hope carried them. I benefit directly from their faith and I am their hope personified. This is not to suggest that there is not much to be found wanting in this country in the present day with the struggles of the past. But if there was no abolishment of slavery and I was born into shackles the same as a black man would have been 200 years ago, what would I hope for in this life? Would I believe for something different? Being broken would be a state of being and my hope would not be independent of my faith, I would hope to die and see blessings in the next life with Christ.
My faith tells me that I am not to live without hope. The end of my faith is the salvation of my soul (1 Peter 1:9). While I am still living, yes I am forgiven, yes I am a new creature in Christ, yes how I live counts, and it is pleasing to the Lord to live right before Him. Yes, there is a right way to live, represent your squad and act like what you believe in. But my soul is not yet redeemed and it will not be until this life is over. Cool, got it Heaven is going to be lit and my faith will get me there later.
But hope is when we look for God to do NOW.
Hope gets us twisted because it can be easily misconstrued as demanding circumstantial evidence from God. God owes us NOTHING. We owe Him everything. We want to take God to court during prayer, present some charges but fail to realize that that is God sitting on the Judge’s bench. Then since we cannot force God to do anything, we tantrum and walk away. I know this because I have done this….multiple times. We step it back to where God is just the peripheral focus or like a landlord checking in every few, simply the author and finisher of our faith but not the caring Lord in whom we can hope for and in during present moments.
Why? Because it is safer. You cannot be disappointed if you did not try.
I, being saved since I was 4 years old, cannot seem to be able to continue to properly handle delays and denials and yet another disappointment in that which I believe in AND hope for. The encouragement “wait God has something better for you” is basically a heartfelt pacifier given to a hungry child, it does not suffice for sustenance it only quells the noise. These desires are not out of line, they are practical and wholesome and tied to what is recognized as healthy growth and development in a person. The denial of these desires is crushing to say the least. It causes the question of does God really care to come up more often than one would think it should. The belief of exemption or bypass due to being so blessed is deeply rooted and causes a dichotomy in the mind that will split you in two. The question is asked:
How can I maintain my faith if I have nothing to show from it?
It is at this juncture is where the fun really begins. This is a flight or fight moment. If you get here, you are really asking the question of: Is my hope substantiated by evidence or is my possessing hope the actual evidence?
The first part of the question has a perception based requirement as it requires outside confirmation. It is a “sitting down on the ground” moment where I will not move another millimeter until I get what I want in the way that I want it, when I want it. Truth be told it is a selfish variant of “faith”. Proverbial gun to God’s head saying “gimme or else”. If you are who you say you are you will. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread…….” If you are a Christian then why hasn’t God blessed you (in the way that I see and acknowledge when I feel like it, kind of maybe on a leap year if it snowed the day before). If you are such a good catch why are you single? If you are so smart why are you working for someone else? If? If? And more if?
The second part of the question is a discernment based requirement – it requires a look inside and an acknowledgement of tangible changes in the intangible. It requires more of what God wants from us which is the constant empowerment by Word generated, grace-based faith which will thus create the hope in our hearts where it should not exist due to extenuating external circumstances. The calm in the storm. The quiet confidence that it is literally going to be alright in this specific situation, not just in the unforeseen future. The part where faith and hope coincide and a situation can no longer dictate for too long who you are and what kind of person you are going to be. The parent on welfare and no education or good credit still confident that bills will be paid and food will be ready for the children. The drug addict who relapsed again. The businessman who failed and took another major financial hit. You can become unbreakable without being calloused and be unstoppable without being belligerent. Instead we are otherwise unbothered because we are locked into God and He is working in us and allows situations to shape us rather than break us.
It takes faith to doubt God. You have to believe something exists in order to doubt it. If you do not believe God exists then that is one thing but if you do but do not like how He does things, congratulations you have faith. Being angry at God is in my opinion the mark of a true Christian. You have to have time invested into someone to really be affected by them. You cannot fake a real relationship with real expectations. You cannot be angry at something that you do not believe has substance and trajectory.
The issue is not faith, the issue is most likely hope and a misaligned hope at that. Are your hopes and God’s hopes aligned? Yes hope for a family but maybe you adopt? Maybe you are that step-parent? Maybe your family is the neighborhood kids who have no one of consistency and substance? Maybe you will have your own family just not now? Do you know these things? Are you praying and meditating, vision boarding, writing it down, creating accountability with your peoples? Faith is a gift, really the first gift, it is what we do with it that affects our walk and adding love, totally different massive topic, is the glue to makes it all stick together.
In conclusion, there is no “either or”. We need faith, we need hope, and we need to have something to strive for in this life, a mission, call, destiny, prophecy…a WHY. Why is why we do anything and how we do it and our best bet is to embrace God’s “why” for our lives and place our hope in Him for that, so hit or miss, we are satisfied in the struggle as He is able to comfort us and empower us in the weaknesses of our struggles.
As I read this piece there is so much to pray about, so much to be completely honest with God about. Our childlike faith leads us to believe that God will give us the world. Our life experiences reveal it is not that simple and sometimes the world resists being handed over. I have sat in many Christian counseling sessions where I was told to adjust my expectations. I struggled to understand what that meant or even looked like. Then I learned to ask God what he wanted for me. I shared my desires with him but I also handed over ultimate decision making to him. Which for me means less trying to manipulate outcomes. More exploring all of his possibilities. This was a good read. Thank you for being sensitive enough and obedient enough to write this.
Joanne, thank you for reading and responding. A few days after I wrote this I took yet another major setback in an area that my faith was already waning from multiple previous setbacks. I appreciate your realness in your response, it helps me as well.