Friday, November 8, 2013

A Chance and a Rock - Thoughts on Hope

"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life."  Proverbs 13:12

"Given a chance and a rock see which one breaks a window, see which one keeps me up all night and into the day." - Caedmon's Call, Table for Two

Hope is a tricky thing.  It lends a stunning amount of strength and energy to the soul...for good or ill.

Mark has pointed out, very accurately, that one reason consistency in disciplining children is so critical, is that it is human nature to not give up if we can detect any hope of success in achieving a desired goal.  So if a child knows that 9 times out of 10, an action will be disciplined, he also knows that he's got a shot at getting away with it.  I don't know about your kids, but mine are constitutionally unable to resist taking that chance!  Consistency extinguishes the hope that poor behavior will go unpunished, and consequently the child is far less tempted to give it a shot.

The same thing has applied to Mark's search for a full time teaching position.  It is a terrible time to need to land a job.  It is a really terrible time to need a college teaching job.  Make it in the humanities, and one begins to feel that entering Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes might be a better use of one's time.  He has been on the market for 5 very long years - since 2008.  Great timing, we know.

This trial has held many challenges for us personally.  For my part I have struggled with frustration, contentment, worry, frustration, fear, shame (how many people outside academia really get how a job search can take 5 years?  Not many), frustration, and frustration.  But over all that (even the frustration!) is the hope.  If there was literally no hope, we could just quit, and leave this messy part-time job of applying for jobs behind us.  But there is hope.  And with passing years, as he accumulates more and more teaching experience from his part time purgatory adjuncting, and as the economy supposedly stumbles toward recovery, there is more hope.  But hope can be a bittersweet companion in trials.  It can be the carrot in front of a very weary horse.  It can build up a sense of optimism, only to be crushed down again.  You can try to contain it with realism, try to be a pessimist for your own sanity, but it wiggles free again, rising up and whispering, "What if?  What if?"

We have an application out right now that we would very much like to bear fruit.  For me this means that for the next few weeks, I will be constantly trying to keep embers of hope alive without allowing them to rage out of control - because hope out of control is a setup for a fall.

Proverbs 13:12, quoted above, is a comfort to me in trials, in two ways.  First, the reassurance that my heartsickness is okay.  It is alright that this is hard for me.  It's not a sin, it's not lack of faith.  Sometimes, there is sin involved, when worry and fear take over for a time, but the difficulty, the heartsickness, they are normal and a part of the human condition in this sinful world.  It reminds me of another favorite passage that is an anchor for me, Psalm 103:13-14:

"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust."

I cling to that passage when I feel weak and afraid.  It is a huge solace to me to remember that God already knows how frail I am, that I am just dust, blown about in this fearful place.  That doesn't anger Him, but rather, He has pity on me.  

The second comfort of the passage in Proverbs, to come back to that, is to remember where hope belongs.  When we hope for earthly good, when we put our hope in our own solutions to our problems, when we hope in the whim of an academic bureaucrat (or the skill of a surgeon, the strength of an army, the survival of a nation), that hope may or may not be fulfilled.  When our true hope and our ultimate desire is in God and His purpose, there can be no heartsickness over that.  Our hearts can rest, hoping in safety, knowing in advance that all will be as it should be. 

Cheers, 



photo credit: nationalrural via photopin cc

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