“By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
Don’t Quit Your Day Job!
Joanne had a rough stretch as she pursued her dreams as a writer. She had an idea for a children’s book set in a fantasy world, but as soon as she started writing the book, her mother died. This sent Joanne into a deep depression, making it difficult (if not impossible) to write.
Joanne later took a job teaching English in Portugal, thinking she would get more time to write and pay her bills at the same time. However, she fell in love, got married, had a daughter, and made little progress on the manuscript. She went through a divorce, left to raise the child alone. She returned home with no job, no family and a child depending on her.
Surviving on unemployment benefits, she kept writing, getting most of her work done while her daughter was napping.
After completing three chapters of her book, she began shopping it to book publishers. Twelve publishers passed on the book. Finally, the thirteenth publisher gave her a shot, but only because the editor’s 8-year-old daughter loved the story and begged her parent to convince the author to finish the book, so she could know the ending. The publisher famously told Joanne, “Don’t quit your day job” (ironic to say the least since Joanne didn’t have one).
Joanne – you and the rest of the world knows her as J.K. Rowling – eventually published that book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, along with many more about Mr. Potter. She became the world’s first billionaire author and we all know her name and heroic character today.
Many of us are incredibly grateful she didn’t give up…or quit her day job!
What Carries Someone Forward Through That Kind of Adversity?
Hope is both a noun and a verb.
One dictionary defined hope in noun form as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” But in verb form, the word is defined as to “want something to happen or be the case.”
Hope is an expectation. Hope desires or wants. And it is in that space, between the noun and verb where hope has its great power.
I’ve met a lot of people who aren’t big fans of hope. Some of them, of a more conservative political persuasion, couldn’t get over the use of the word by our President Obama in his campaigns. Others bought into the myth which says hopeful people are passive, weak, naive, and disengaged.
Yet, when I read the stories of cultural influencers, successful entrepreneurs, legendary political leaders, iconic artists, and everyday heroes, each person oozes hope and none of them are viewed as passive, weak, naive, or disengaged.
Hopeful people are some of the most active, hard-working, strong and engaged we know.
[callout] This article is the second in a series of four articles on hope. The first article focused on the places we look to for hope and the disappointment they create. The second article explored how what you focus on shapes your hopes. If you’d like to receive future articles in this series and other posts to empower you with a new perspective, please enter your email address below. In the meantime, I’ll send you a copy of my ebook on forgiveness. [/callout]
Hard Times for Hope
We live in at a time when we experience fake news, fact-checking, and hoaxes on a seemingly daily basis. It’s hard to be a hopeful person.
Cynicism is much more accessible than hope today. And it seems more popular too. Looking for hope can be like looking for a VCR. Sure, someone might have one, but everyone you ask on your search is going to ask, “Why do you need one when you can have DVD or Blu-Ray or Netflix or….?”
To some, it seems that suspicion, doubt, and mistrust are more needed qualities today than hope. Yet, it is hope, not any of the qualities I just mentioned, which sustains us in this world, while we wait on what we long for but do not currently experience.
In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote, “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.”
Hope sustains us as we wait, but what it produces in us is just as important. I once heard someone say, “hope is not a strategy.” That person was correct. Hope it is not a strategy, but hope can produce a strategy. Hope produces the kind of actions which guides us through a bizarre, crazy, even scary time in human history.
A Hope-Driven Strategy
While I defined hope earlier according to a dictionary, throughout this series, I’ve been drawing from Kevin Gerald’s definition. Gerald, a pastor, describes hope as “a stubborn, unrelenting determination to not allow the hardships of life to downsize the bigness of God.”
This defiance creates a strategy which emerges from hope. I believe a hope-driven strategy includes four elements, which I’d like to elaborate on briefly.
1. Be present.
As we hope, we are challenged to be present in our current moment, even while our expectation lifts our head to the future. Hopeful people keep their eyes on what’s ahead – what hasn’t yet occurred – even while their feet remain planted in the present. Informed by what’s to come, the hopeful do not miss what’s going on now.
One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, once said, “Active waiting means present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.” Too often, waiting is construed as inactivity in or disengagement with this moment.
The most hopeful people I know have expectations for the future, but those expectations have them engaged in the present because they know this moment that is connected to that moment which has yet to be.
2. Be patient.
Patience is the great need and great struggle of our age. Our lifestyle works against it. Our worldview minimizes its value. And our friends discourage it.
While patience is listed in the Bible as a fruit of the Spirit, it seems that the patience tree in our world is located within a drought-wrecked forest. Our lack of patience is tied to our struggle with hope and our spurning of long-term processes.
Ray A. Davis, a corporate trainer, writes, “Patience is not passive waiting. Patience is active acceptance of the process required to attain goals and dreams.”
If hope is going to lead to an intentional strategy, then patience is going to be an invaluable component in that process. As Paul said earlier, if we haven’t experienced our hope yet, we wait for it with patience – but not passivity.
3. Be proactive
Teddy Roosevelt, American president and bullish pursuer of what could be, famously said, “do all you can with what you have where you are.”
Hopeful living leads us to be proactive, taking the actions we can today which create a greater possibility for our hope to be realized tomorrow.
As a pastor, few things frustrate me more than the passivity which is justified by people who tell me, “I’m just waiting on God.” They say they’re waiting on God to provide a job, but they’re not networking, applying for jobs, or developing new skills. They say they’re waiting on God to provide for their financial needs, all the while spending money on nonessentials – wants not needs.
Waiting on God is not a passive but an active step of obedience. While God doesn’t always wait to fulfill our hopes until we take action, we should not expect Him to magically work while we kick our feet up in a recliner. This line of thinking is foolish at best and destructive at worst.
4. Be transformed.
Author and pastor, Dr. Paul Tripp, has wisely observed, “Waiting isn’t just about what you’re hoping for at the end of the wait, but also about what you’ll become as you wait.”
Many have pointed out a journey isn’t only about the destination – it’s about what happens along the road to the destination. We grow and change as we wait for our hope to be fulfilled.
As we pursue our hopes, we are transformed. This is the storyline of every epic tale – whether a play, a novel or a movie. From Hamilton to The Count of Monte Cristo to Star Wars, each character is changed in chasing what could be. The same is true for us.
None of us are static beings. If you meet someone who hasn’t changed, grown or developed at a high school reunion, I think that’s a tragedy. It’s very easy to become laser-focused on getting what we want and not aware enough of becoming the people we want to be.
A Visual Transformation
This past Sunday, I preached on the power of the Resurrection during our celebration of Easter.
I talked about the importance of expecting Resurrection in other people and shared how intensely personal this theme was to me. I showed a series of three photos in the talk.
This comparison always gets a laugh, as I share about my love for hair glue and compare my spiky hair to Syndrome/Incrediboy from Pixar’s The Incredibles. But as the laughter subsided, I talked about what I saw in this image. I saw a Scott who is Idealistic, entitled, arrogant, and inexperienced.
I shared this photo second. I’m still not sure how my wife let me attempt to grow a beard, but it’s obvious why I’m now a regular shaver. Beneath the facial hair, I recognize a Scott who is no longer idealistic, but instead, I recognize a Scott who is disillusioned, cynical, frustrated and angry. The photo is of me preaching. And it wasn’t long after this photo was taken that a regular attendee at my church pulled me aside and asked me, “Scott, where’s the hope?”
This final photo was taken several months ago. And this Scott doesn’t have spiky hair or a patchy beard. He’s smiling. And I see a man who is more hopeful, more teachable, more humble – a transformed person.
I’m incredibly grateful for the men and women who created space for me to make this transformation. It’s a gift I’m trying to pass on to you this month by sharing about the power of hope.
More Than Good Vibes
As I’ve pursued my hopes of becoming a faithful lead pastor, an incredible husband and a beloved father, an effective writer and published author, I’ve been transformed into a different person than the spiky haired kid I was eleven years ago.
I’m a hope guy and I long for you to be a hope person too. But it’s not enough to have hope – we have to convert and translate our hope into action if we’re going to make a difference in this world and expect to see our hope realized this side of heaven.
I’d love to hear from you. What is your hope? How has your hope informed your actions?