“We have run out of options. Your ankle will continue to get worse and you may eventually be unable to walk on it. In order to prolong your use of it, you must avoid all running, jumping, and stress on your leg. To the best of your ability, even avoid gaining much weight. In the meantime, we’ll make it as comfortable as possible for as long as we can.”
These were the last words I heard from my orthopedic surgeon. One injury and five intense surgeries later, my hope of healing has faded. After being an athlete all of my life and finding great joy in the ability to play sports, run, and de-stress through physical activity, this was an extremely difficult diagnoses to hear. Not only have I lost the ability to do so much of what I enjoy in life, but my future may include the complete inability to walk normally.
I have felt as though a small part of me has died. Why would God allow this when he created me with the gift of athleticism and the great pleasure of being active with my children, spouse, and friends. My heart grieves at the reality that I can no longer join friends in pickup volleyball and softball games. I feel sadness well up when I have to stop myself from running after my children or kicking a soccer ball with them. I battle discouragement as I struggle to find a way to stay healthy when I’m so limited in exercise.
This has been one of many losses in my life over the last several years. Therefore, I have wrestled with the Lord over the many “good” things that he has allowed to be stripped away.
We all have natural hopes, don’t we? Some that we just assume will always be a part of our life and some that we plan, pursue, and dream about. However, when some of these hopes are tested or suddenly dashed, we can find ourselves shaken, confused, and wondering what purpose there is for us to continue in this broken world.
However, could this be the very reason that God allows our earthly hopes to fade? To increase in us a greater hope?
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Rebecca Petrie, a Christian women who suddenly found herself facing life as a quadriplegic, wrote:
“As I meditated on this, it seemed that suffering, rather than causing our hope to disappear, can produce hope. Could there be two different kinds of hope: a natural hope, and a spiritual hope? Through trials we often come to the end of our natural hopes, even hopes that are good. In the beginning this may result in disappointment, discouragement, and even despair. But as we hold on to the Lord, we persevere. I find that this perseverance works character in me. And, almost without realizing it, a new hope is born within my soul. It is Jesus himself, his life, and his love, ‘being poured out in my heart.’
For many of us, we have come through or are still in circumstances in which our natural hope is being tested, and even drained away. But, oh, as we persevere, what a great treasure it is to have fresh hope that will never disappoint us, rooted in the Father’s love.”¹
Yes! This is exactly what I have experienced, though I struggled to find words for, as I’ve persevered through circumstances where my natural hopes were being not only tested, but stripped away. Although the death of these hopes has been painful, it has not had the final word. For God’s intention through these small little deaths has been greater life! As my earthly hopes have faded in my expectations of family life, physical body, comforts, and health; a spiritual hope, one that cannot fade, has grown deeper within me, increasing my vision and longing for my eternal home with Christ.
What earthly hopes have you faced the loss of? Do you long to be married but year after year your prayer for a spouse goes unanswered? Did you expect to have children but now find yourself battling infertility, grieving every month that your longing goes unmet? Were you on a path towards success in a job, talent, or dream, when circumstances suddenly left you flailing and lost? Were you once filled with optimism but are now fighting despair and depression as chronic pain or illness sucks the joy out of life?
We all have natural hopes that are lost, to one degree or another. No one can live in this broken world without experiencing the effects of its brokenness. However, for the Christian, the loss of our natural hopes are not meant to leave us empty and despairing. They are meant to grow in us a greater spiritual hope. Briefly, here are three ways that I believe the Lord allows us to come to the end of our natural hopes, in order that a new hope would be born within us.
The loss of earthly hopes makes room for the eternal hope we have in Christ.
We are earthly beings and, therefore, we naturally live as if this is earth is our home. However, pain and loss often begin to stir within us a dissatisfaction for the fragile, temporary things of this earth, creating a longing for something unshakable and lasting. Therefore, in God’s love for us, he allows the disappointments and losses that we experience in life to drive us into the arms of Christ, producing in us endurance, character, and ultimately hope – an eternal, satisfying, joy-filled hope. The pain of this world illuminates the glorious and undeserved gift of Salvation and causes us to increasingly fix our eyes on the worth and value of knowing Christ more. The shiny things of earth begin to dull and the treasures of Christ begin to shine all the more brightly.
The loss of earthly hopes teach us to view this life as the momentary life that it is.
If we view our lives as if this is all we are living for, we will be devastated when it doesn’t pan out as we had hoped. However, when we learn to view this life as the temporary life that it is, we have a proper perspective of both our blessings and are sorrows. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18:
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
We will never see our affliction as light and momentary if we do not have a proper view of our eternity. However, if we grasp that the very affliction we hate is actually preparing for us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, we will have reason and hope to endure until that day. Although our lives don’t feel light and momentary, in light of eternity, they are! Neither our greatest earthly blessings nor our greatest earthly sorrows can compare to the eternal weight of glory that we are being prepared for. This is the spiritual hope that is being sowed within us.
The loss of earthly hopes cause us to long for heaven in a greater way.
“Our best life is not now; our best life is yet to come.”² The more we experience the realities of being foreigners in this world, the more we desire to be at home with our Savior. This is not our home, yet we often live as if it is. We sacrifice for success, when it can all be gone in a moment. We hope for a spouse or a child, but even the blessings of marriage and parenthood fall short of what we expect and often stir within us a greater fear of losing those we love. We strive for health and beauty when, in a moments notice, illness or death can unexpectedly strike. But one day, our struggle and striving will end. Our uncertainties, fears, and expectation of death will be no more. For those in Christ, eternity with our Savior will be all the more sweet after tasting the bitterness of this earth. Believer, fix your eyes on your promised eternity, because as your vision of your eternal home begins to enlarge, this life will seem increasingly less important and far more momentary.
If you have felt the pain of your earthly hopes fading, would you join me asking Christ to use that pain to increase your spiritual hope? The losses of this world can either turn us toward bitterness or greater life and joy in Christ. When I feel the ache of not being able to chase after my children anymore, I have two choices. I can grumble about how unfair it is and live in the sadness of this loss, or I can allow the pain and loss of my earthly hope to remind me that this is not my home and that this loss is momentary and light in comparison to knowing Christ more and being filled with an eternal hope.
As we persevere through times of loss, we will discover a greater treasure; hope that will never disappoint us, rooted in the Father’s love.
¹Rebecca Petrie – Falling Into His Grace
This post first appeared at Sarah’s website and is posted here with her permission.
Sarah Walton is a stay-at-home mom with four kids under twelve years of age. She is the co-author of Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering (The Good Book Company, April 2017) and the co-author (alongside her husband) of the forthcoming book, Together Through the Storms ( Coming Spring 2020). After more than a decade of trials and learning to walk with Christ as her family navigates Lyme Disease, special needs, financial loss, and many other challenges, she shares how the gospel speaks into all areas of our lives and gives hope to our suffering. She blogs at Setapart.net and is a contributing writer at Desiring God, Revive Our Hearts, and Unlocking the Bible.