Real Hope

Two fighters dance in a boxing ring, their bright red gloves jabbing in rhythm with their feet.

It’s how I see Hope and Realism.

I don’t know if it’s right for me to put these two in a ring together, to make them duke it out. Maybe Hope and Realism are not competitors. Maybe they’re friends.

But my father-in-law is … dying, and it’s the first time I’ve said that out loud. In fact, saying it feels like betrayal, like I’m not giving him the hope he deserves. I’ve jabbed him with a left, a heavy-handed punch of realism.

This man whom I love, this man who is father to my husband, grandfather to my children, has in the span of just a few months gone from a vibrant and energetic man to a weak, suffering “patient.” Last summer he was pulling my kids on an tube in the lake, sweeping them off to museums and cooking them dinner. And suddenly he’s years older, as if someone moved the clock forward when none of us was looking. Cancer is on the move inside his body. And with each pain-inducing move, it is taking away the years to come, eroding former hopes. The professionals have been realistic, offering a hope tempered with numbers, with months. I guess they don’t want to kill hope, but they don’t want anyone hoping for years. That would be going too far.

And I am struggling to understand the place of hope. Do we hope against a forecast, dare to trust in miracle, in God’s ability to heal? Or protect our hearts with realism, prepare to order affairs before it’s too late? Some of us like to keep hearts in check because disappointment is a terrible monger. And some of us confuse hope with denial, using it to delay having to go to that hard place, the place where we let go, where we seek a truce with death and closure.

Is there a place where Hope and Realism declare a truce? Where they walk arm and arm out of that ring, through the screaming crowds?

Scripture is no help when it comes to easing the reality that death does indeed toll. Yet it puts death in its rightful perspective. It’s not to be feared. For the recipients of God’s unbounded mercy and love, it’s only a momentary trouble. It’s not the end of hope; it’s the beginning. Even with its unknowns, it cannot separate us from God. “Be strong and courageous,” God said to the warrior Joshua as he took command of Israel. “Do not be afraid. Neither be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” And so he will. Even into death.

In this season of Lent, we identify with Christ’s journey into death, God going before us into that which we most fear. That painful separation from the Father? He bore it alone to spare us from the same. His suffering broke the grave, broke death’s sting. He made a way for us to pass through death to life.

Our family has entered its own lent, our own journey towards death. We don’t want to let go of the man we love. What do we dare to hope?

We dare to hope that this, even this, is within the loving embrace of a Father who will not, does not, ever, abandon, us. A healing of cancer, as much a joy as it would be, is still just a temporary salvation, for we are all assured of death. But a conquering of death’s sting, of the grave’s hold, is a permanent and abiding salvation, a reality that is as much a part of hope as it is a part of death.

So we hope for Hope itself because if it is anything, it is real — far more real than death.

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