Hope used to come easy to me. I could rally myself to keep believing, holding on, and pushing forward. I didn’t realize how much I was struggling with a spirit of hope until the holidays rolled around last year. Every year, I look forward to returning to my favorite advent devotional book. A book that’s now filled with my prayer requests and big dreams over the past 5 years. It always opens up this verse from Isaiah 11:1,10 that lights up hope on the inside of me.
Isaiah 11:1,10, “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot-Yes, a branch bearing fruit from the old root….In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.”
But, this year hit different.
Instead of finding hope those verses stirred up feelings of disappointment. Instead of encouragement, bitterness. I decided that I didn’t need those verses to remind me that another year had come and gone, and I still had a stump.
Last year was rough, for all of us, in so many similar and different ways with the pandemic, economic hardship, an election year, social injustice and racial inequality on display.
In my own personal life, I was wrestling with the pain of losing both of my grandpas whom I loved dearly, processing deep questions about my faith, anxiety bubbling over, the sadness of losing a relationship I hoped I’d have forever, and injuring my back.
It took a few days into the advent season, but I eventually decided to pull the book off the shelf and read it despite how I was feeling. In some ways, I was secretly hoping reading it would somehow magically remove all the sadness and pain I was feeling. It didn’t change my circumstances, but it did realign my focus.
I was reminded that God is in the business of taking stumps, whether I feel it, or know how he’s going to do it, and use it to bring forth life.
I want to share three things I’ve been doing (and I know there could be more – I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!) that are helping me start to see the shoots coming out of a stump. It’s not lost on me that these three points, depending on how you’re feeling today or what you’re going through, might feel trite, overdone and cheesy. I get that. There are countless times in the last year I would be rolling my eyes at someone suggesting making scripture a priority. But, a year later, as I look back, I know that doing some of this stuff when I didn’t think it would help or didn’t want to because I was too heartbroken and frustrated, actually made a difference and continues to be something that I can do when I have moments of feeling anxious, sad and lost.
1. Reset Those Expectations
I felt like God owed me big. And I expected big miracles, big spectacles of God’s glory and power to right the broken dreams, despair and disappointment I felt coming out of 2020. I wanted macro-miracles out of that stump and I wanted them stat.
Spoiler Alert: I didn’t get any macro miracles like I thought I deserved, but in the process my heart shifted when I started to see beyond my bitterness and disappointment and saw the micro-miracles – the shoots of out of the stump – all around me.
I embraced little moments of joy with little puppy snuggles, watching my nephew discover the excitement of splashing in mud puddles, a few laughing so hard your cheeks hurt and tears are rolling down your face moments with my sisters, an encouraging word from a friend that reminded me of what I was hoping for in the first place, the calming of my anxiety after a counseling session or those delicious pretzel bites from Auntie Anne’s at the mall (those nuggets of gluten and bread minister to my soul and bring me joy like nothing else).
I settled into savoring small micro-miracles because I knew it was going to be the ladder that would lead me out of despair into hope. I never found earth-shattering, bring people back from the dead, win the lottery kind of miracles. But, the micro-miracles were pockets of joy sparking hope and gratitude in dark spaces. And, that’s what I needed more than anything.
There are still days I struggle to find hope, still feel the pain, experience the grief, settle into disappointment. It’s a journey and I’m making sure to find places to stop along the way to reset my expectations and find joy.
2. Turn The Pages On The Regular
When my hope started to drift, I didn’t want to open up the devotional and I wasn’t all too interested in flipping through the pages of my Bible. But, I’m glad that I found my way back to a book that has the power to refresh, renew, and stir up hope. Even more, it’s a book that creates the space to process pain, deal with disappointment and lament the hard stuff. In the season I was in, I was drawn to verses about light in darkness. I made it a priority to find them, read them, and let them encourage my faith to a place where I could see that there was still light to look or, still shoots to come out of the stump.
“The sun will no longer be your light by day, and the brightness of the moon will not shine on you. The Lord will be your everlasting light.” Isaiah 60:19
Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in history, had a line from her poem that said, “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
I imagined myself sitting on the stump, flipping through my Bible to verses about God’s light in darkness, and it was a small moment of being brave enough to look for the light again.
3. Keep On, Keeping On
When you’ve been staring at a stump long enough, you might start to wonder if it’s time to pack up and move on. If there has been a verse this past year that has stopped me from throwing in the towel, it’s 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
When it comes to “keep on, keeping on” rock climbing seems like the most fitting example of how you can do this. I was very inspired by the Netflix Documentary, The Dawn Treader. In January, 2015, American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson captivated the world with their effort to climb The Dawn Wall, a seemingly impossible 3,000 foot rock face in Yosemite National Park, California. The pair lived on the sheer vertical cliff for weeks as they scaled the wall. On January 14, 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson topped El Capitan’s Dawn Wall.
From what I’ve gathered about rock climbing (based on no personal experience) you don’t really get to know your next move until you make a move (the rock climbers I mentioned on the Dawn Wall knew how to rock climb, but for this feat they had no map, no route, no directions on the best places to put their feet or hands for the best results). Sometimes you even end up going sideways in order to move forward. Until you have the faith and courage to reach out for the next rock and release your hand from a place of comfort, you won’t get to the top (think monkey bars if rock climbing isn’t your thing – to get across you release one hand and float through the air to the next one).
Sometimes we just gotta keep showing up and putting one foot in front of the other. All these turns, all these twists, all the surprises and disappointments are just a part of making it up the mountain. And, in the midst of the season of stumps, what kept me going in life and ministry was making moves (even if they were small ones), showing up and being present.
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