And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope; and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person someone actually might dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:3-8 NRSV)
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:18 NIV)
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-26 RSV)
Yesterday afternoon, an old friend and I spent an hour on the phone catching up. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years, though we lived in the same place for only the first five of those years. Since then, we’ve had to stay in touch through phone calls and occasional visits. Until the pandemic struck, I considered the not quite three hour drive to her neck of the woods to be a somewhat lengthy but totally worthwhile journey...though I did not often manage to make it happen. Differences in work schedules and life stages (she’s a generation younger than I am) kept getting in the way. When I retired last year, I figured I’d get to see my wonderful friend more often. But retirement has proven to be not quite as “retiring” as I’d anticipated...until, suddenly, it was. With no where much to go, and nothing much to do, life became more retiring than most of us have ever experienced. And, of course, the pandemic has taught us that there’s more than one kind of distance; three hour drives now seem as nothing to me compared to the distance brought on by protective isolation practices. But then the magic of friendship happens: I hear her voice on the other end of the call, and it’s like we’ve never been apart. We take up where we left off without a hitch. We laugh together at the ironies, great and small, of Life In The Time of Coronavirus; and we moan and groan a bit (just a bit, really) as we contemplate all the ways our worlds have changed in the last few months. We catalog our personal Lists of Cancellations, and wonder what the future will hold. “I’m not sure things are ever going back the way they were,” she says at one point, her voice dropping off into an ellipsis. All I can do is nod my head; of course, she can’t see me, but something tells me she knows I’m agreeing, however silently. Before you can say “Whoopseedoodle,” the hour has flown, and it’s time to say goodbye - until next time. But no matter; I can feel the love, and I hope she can, too. That’s what friends are for.
Of all the musings we shared with one another during that call, what sticks with me most is a remark she made about her daughter, who has recently turned 13. Like so many other children and adolescents, her daughter has missed out on a lot lately; time with friends, numerous activities and engagements, end of school year celebrations, etc. But her Mom tells me she’s doing remarkably well in the midst of it all. Just the other day, my friend tells me, her daughter said, “You know, I don’t think I’d ever have learned how to be with myself, if this hadn’t been forced on me.” Wow, I think to myself; that’s a mountain in a mouthful, especially for a newly minted teenager. The ability to be good company for oneself, to be comfortable in one’s own skin - those are accomplishments that elude many of her elders...to say nothing of the powerful leverage that comes with finding the positives hidden in the negatives. She’s already well on her way to the eternal truth of Romans 8:28; “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purposes.” This young soul has already grasped the basic principles of an important spiritual discipline: searching for meaning in what we would never have chosen. With that much already under her belt, she’ll soon level up to another of St. Paul’s faith development markers: hoping for what she cannot see, and waiting for it with (varying degrees of!) patience. May we all do so well.
In fact, as I reflect on our conversation, I realize that time ran out before my friend and I could turn the corner from lament to hope. (The Bend in the Road is Not the End of the Road, Unless You Fail to Make the Curve.) Yes, a great deal has changed, much of it in ways we would not have chosen, and over which we may still be mourning. But not everything has changed; many of The Big Things remain as firm and secure as ever. Teenagers keep growing up, no matter what, managing somehow to flourish in a time of challenge. Lasting friendships keep on lasting, no matter what, somehow leaping barriers of time and space to warm the heart and fill the spirit. Suffering keeps on producing endurance; and endurance, character; and character, hope- the kind of hope that does not disappoint us, because God’s love keeps on being poured into our hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit, who (for reasons best known only to the Spirit) keeps on being given to the likes of us. Yes, indeed; the unfathomable love of God keeps showering down on us, in ways seen and unseen, known and unknown, granting peace and growing hope in us, day by day. It is still as true as true can be that “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners” - and that still “proves God’s love for us.” No matter what else changes, we still “have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” It doesn’t get any better than that, folks. Thanks be to God for what never changes, no matter what.
“Hope of the World” (v. 4)
Hope of the world, who by thy cross didst save us
from death and dark despair, from sin and guilt,
we render back the love thy mercy gave us;
take thou our lives, and use them as thou wilt.
When evil darkens our world, Lord, give us light. When despair numbs our soul, give us hope. When we stumble and fall, lift us up. When doubts assail us, give us faith. When nothing seems sure, give us trust. When ideals fade, give us vision. When we lose our way, be our guide. That we may find serenity in your presence, and purpose in doing your will. (Jewish Prayers for Faith, Hope and Love, The New Union Prayerbook, 1975) Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood