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Allison Althoff
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June 29, 2010

Swatches of Hope

How do we connect what feels like abstract hope to the concrete problems we see?

For a few weeks now, I’ve been carrying around some unusual symbols of hope: a small stack of paint swatches in a wrinkled plastic grocery bag.

I’d been looking for a new place to live—someplace close enough to work and school to shorten a soul-draining daily commute. A good space for having friends over, with enough room for a little dog, and a small balcony where I can read on warm summer nights. A space with walls I can paint whatever color I want.

Finding that space has taken more than a year—a long year full of appointments and paperwork squeezed around all of my regular responsibilities. As time has ground on, the idea of having a home has started to feel more abstract than concrete. I know intellectually that eventually I’ll fax the last mound of papers, write the last check, get the keys, and move in, but I didn’t feel connected to that reality.

So a few weeks ago, I went to the hardware store on a mission to find some paint swatches. I figured that having some small reminders of the joy I’d feel once I had my own place would help me feel encouraged and connected, even as I slogged along.

While I’d already made the decision to see the process through until the end, somehow carrying around swatches with names like Banana Cream Pie and Buttered Sweet Corn has helped me to remain positive and joyful, if a little hungry.

This small example from my day-to-day life has me thinking about what hope means for a follower of Christ. While I affirm that my hope is in him in a sort of general, overarching sense, just skimming the day’s headlines about the host of intractable problems facing the world presents a deep challenge to that hope.

I wonder: How do I connect what feels like abstract hope to the concrete problems I see? Are we all just slogging along in this mess, seeing bright little splashes of hope here and there, but mostly getting worn down? And how does the gospel apply to all of this?

A friend of mine often poses these questions by asking, “What’s the Good News for this situation?” And sometimes, I just don’t know. I find myself living the realities of Romans 8, which describes the joyful challenges of freedom in Christ, of waiting for God’s glory to be revealed, and of living as victors who cannot be separated from the love of God.

One of my favorite gospel songs, by the composer Lucie Campbell, describes having a “something within” that allows a believer to persist through the challenges of life:

“Something within me that holdeth the reins/ Something within me that banishes pain/ Something within me I cannot explain, All that I know there is something within.”

Campbell’s lyrics describe that “something within” as a “heavenly fire.” If hope is one of those “somethings within,” how can we maintain it, so that it warms others?

I often find myself encouraged by a good book about faith or a conversation with a fellow traveler who is farther along the road of faith than I am. But I’d like to become someone who integrates hope more deeply into my life. I’d like to “practice” it—to carry it around with me like I have these swatches for the last few weeks.

What helps you to practice hope?

Related Tags: Hope


Music. I have all Christian music on my MP3 player that I listen to while I run on the treadmill at the gym. The songs have ingrained themselves in my mind and they repeat over and over and over, affirming God's presence with me. I'm particularly drawn to songs that deal with the tough issues in a thoughtful way; I remember their message of hope in the midst of struggles while I read the news headlines and such. Sara Groves, Chris Rice and Caedmon's Call are some of my favorites in this area.

At other times, I need something "lighter" and I opt for Christian artists who write from a Christian worldview but not always "Christian" themes. Say, for example, a romantic song that embraces love as a beautiful, happy, wonderful thing, rather than a stifling thing to be cynical about.

So...did you choose the Buttered Sweet Corn or the Banana Cream Pie?

This just struck a chord with me. I'm writing from El Salvador, where violence has seen a surge in the past few years. Almost 2 weeks ago, something horrible happened that shocked our entire country. A few induviduals burned a bus... with people still on it. They threw gas on it, people inside screaming for mercy, and the had guns to shoot anyone who tried to get out. A young man, on fire, threw himself from a window, only to be shot to death by these men.

In the end, 11 persons died burned to death on that bus, one of them an 18 month old baby. Several others survived but were seriously burned, and 2 of those have died since then. Our pastor told us that our country has entered into a whole new level of spiritual warfare.

I know that God has a plan, and that He will do these people justice. But when I hear this kind of thing happening, and there is violence left and right, it is so hard sometimes to feel hope.

How can anyone burn another person to death?! Witnesses, too terrified to intervene, say that these men where laughing. People were screaming being burned alive... and they were laughing.

I remind myself that God is in comtrol, that though I may not understand, He is in control. He will bring healing and justice, and each time I remind myself these things, peace returns to my heart and once again I can hope. And then I turn left and I see Him in some small detail, and I turn right and I see a small miracle happening. Then I turn the TV on and our version of the Senate has just approved mandatory reading of the Bible in every school in the country. Hope returns...

hope is rising!!!!again...

In 1989 as I was going through the harrowing death of a twin, God brought this verse to mind. It's the Applified version that I found most helpful and it has allowed me to find hope over and over again. "..for He Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up, not leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, not forsake you nor let you down, relax my hold on you-Assuredly not.(Hebrews 13:5). HOPE THOU IN GOD!

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