Erring On the Side of Hope
I'm not sure exactly when it happens, that change when believing in the impossible no longer comes naturally to us, my guess is it starts the first time we desire something that doesn't come to be. We feel the sting of disappointment and our minds conclude that maybe next time we wouldn't fall so far if we just don't allow our hopes to sour to such heights again.
The other day Ryan and I found out that there was the possibility of a change that would be a huge blessing for our family. As I thought about the potential of what this change could mean I felt the excitement and hope rising inside of me and then I heard it, as if someone was whispering in my ear, Don't go there. Don't get your hopes up. How many times have you hoped for change like this only to be devastated with disappointment?
I knew there was validity in those statements, but before I could dwell on them and allow them to fester into doubt and fear, I heard another voice, this voice was louder and stronger and welled up from deep within me calling me to "Err on the side of hope, Natalie."
I haven't been able to stop thinking about what that means and what it looks like to "err on the side of hope."
Our youngest daughter is turning 4 in a few weeks. She has been talking about this birthday for months and for the past couple weeks everyday she tells us that she wants a pony for her birthday, a real pony like the one Laura Ingalls has, mind you. We have tried to break it to her easily and prepare her heart for the disappointment of not getting what her heart desires. We've tried to get her to understand that a real pony wouldn't make sense with her living conditions, "Pony's get really big and we don't have a barn to keep it in.". We've tried to convince her that she doesn't really want a real pony. "Where would your pony go potty and who would clean after the pony and pony's can be really smelly." We've tried to get her to settle her desires on something smaller and easier to care for like the ponies in the stuffed variety. Just when we think we've convinced her to desire something else she will wake up and declare that she can't wait to get her pony for her birthday.
Guys, there is no way she's getting a real pony. As her parents we know that is out of the question. Us buying her a pony wouldn't be good for her or the pony or anyone involved, but no matter what we do, until she opens her present and sees that it's not a real pony, our daughter will continue to hold out hope and believe for a pony.
As I was praying about what it looks like for me to err on the side of hope and how to fight the urge to "not get my hopes up." I heard God say, "Never stop asking me for a pony, in fact, ask me for a unicorn." I knew instantly what the Lord meant because of what we've been going through with Vienna. The verse in Matthew 18 came to mind where the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?" At this point they still clearly did not understand that God's kingdom was not going to come by earthly force. In spite of Jesus' powerful displays of servant leadership they had conjured up in their heads a notion of a domineering power that they were going to be a part of, that was where they were staking their hope and each of them wanted the leading role. What does Jesus do? Oh man, I love this! He brings a child to himself and says, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
When the world looks at my daughter and her request for something impossible they chalk it up to immaturity and naiveness, but I believe God looks at her heart and her wild imagination and her whimsical dreams and He sees a faith that is worth striving for.
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that: faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
James 1:6 says that: when we ask we must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double minded and unstable in all they do. Now that verse has always messed with me. The thought of my doubt getting in the way of the power of my prayers is actually terrifying to me. I do not handle disappointment well, ever since I was a kid, I have always struggled when my expectations and hopes were not met. I think everyone struggles with unmet expectations whether it's in our personal ambitions, marriage, or motherhood. Wherever there is room for hope there is the potential for disappointment. As we get older, if we're not fighting against it, we'll become jaded by the sorrows of this life and we'll learn ways of self preservation.
I think in our faiths this looks like, never asking too much of God.
If we're not careful our relationship with God can turn from us skipping hand in hand, like a child, wide eyes and joyous laughter, begging her daddy (who she knows literally hung the stars in the sky and can do no wrong) for a unicorn, with every repetitious request also comes a giddy expectation for a unicorn to leap out from the bushes, to us walking with our heads down like a sullen teenager and when God asks us what we want we shrug our shoulders and say, "whatever...."
I believe that as we mature spiritually just like as we mature physically we are going to walk through these different stages with God just as with our earthly parents, but I find it so intriguing that He wants us to focus our attentions on becoming like a child again when it comes to our faith.
I think the reasons for that lie in the relational heart of God. God did not create us to be little robots that He just programs to do what He wants. Yes, he wants us to obey, but He wants us to play an active role in the story He is writing with our lives which is why He gave us a free will.
He wants to be with us.
From the very beginning, He has desired to be with us, like a good Father longs to be with their child, He wants us to open ourselves up to be known by Him. Not because He doesn't already know everything about us, but because He wants intimacy and trust from us.
He wants us to ask for things.
In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son (there He is using a child as an example again) asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
If you're like me, you're thinking, that sounds great, but we're not always going to get a pony and we're certainly not always going to get a unicorn. I hear you, and this is where I struggle too. We can pray and believe with all of our hearts for something but still not receive it, what is our faith to do then?
I won't pretend that I understand this or walk it out perfectly, but I think we are called to have faith like a child's because God wants us to believe Him for the impossible, but at the same time we must develop a faith so deep that when we open the present and it's not a pony, we can bring our disappointment to our Heavenly Father, just as we would have our excitement if our wish had come true. I believe that it's in those moments of vulnerability and surrender that our trust can deepen because we know that God has our best interest in mind, so if we don't receive what we ask, it's because He knows this path will lead to a far greater reward for us.
He wants to change our desires.
Let's be real, kids don't always know what they really want. There is a chance that Vienna is meant to be a horse jockey or run an equine therapy center someday and this could just be the beginning of God growing that passion inside of her, (that is why I'm really passionate about listening and caring about my kids' desires and passions. I believe it's our job as parents to study our children, but that is another post for another day) but it's more likely that her hankering for a horse will soon be replaced with something else and a few months or even days down the road she may not even remember it.
When it comes to our faith God's ways are so much higher than our ways. He takes our desires seriously and he always listens to us, but His desires for us take precedence over our desires because He knows what is going to bring us lasting joy. When we surrender our hopes and desires to our Father, He begins to teach us how to dance (or in this case pray) in a way that aligns with His leading. It is when our desires line up with His will that ANYTHING we ask we will receive.
Vienna may be disappointed about not getting a real pony, but we will be there to help her learn to walk through sadness and disappointment and that in and of itself is a gift. Our hope though, is that when she sees what she does get for her birthday, she will know that she is loved and delighted in. Our hope is that she will learn the greatest gifts are unwrapped in the moments she comes to know more deeply the One who knows her completely.
Father, help me to become someone who always errs on the side of hope. This world tells us to not get our hopes up, but I know with You there is no limit to possibilities. Yes, because of You, Jesus I will err on the side of hope every time. I will hope and pray and believe without doubting. I will remember your faithfulness and wait in expectation for your miracles again, like a child waits and longs for a glimpse of a unicorn. I will never buy into the lie of not getting my hopes up. When it comes to you working and moving in my life, my hopes will soar like eagles, my faith will move mountains, my prayers will calm storms, and my trust will walk on waters. May the loudest cry of my heart and my deepest desire always be to know You more.