Monday, January 23, 2023

Hope Deferred (Or Not)

Green flower bud showing a few reddish streaks above a brown bulb in a glass vase
Amaryllis bud rising

“Be strong, and let your heart be courageous,

all you who put your hope in the Lord.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭31‬:‭24‬ ‭CSB‬‬

“Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭39‬:‭7‬ ‭CSB‬‬

After the splendor of the apple-blossom amaryllis at the beginning of 2021, the opportunity somehow escaped me to purchase an amaryllis to watch indoors in the winter of 2021-2022. I missed it.

Consequently, after this past Thanksgiving I made certain to obtain one for the current winter. After some characteristic dithering, I decided on another apple-blossom bulb . Amore plants them in the garden after their indoor blooms are spent,. This way the other one will have a companion.

One challenge we have had with our amaryllis blooms is that they become top-heavy and unstable. Some specially designed stakes helped, but this year I decided to try a glass bulb planter with a bulbous lower cavity one fills with water. The elongated top, I reasoned, might provide more support for the long stem.

Never having planted anything without soil or some sort of potting medium, I read the directions several times and paid oh-so-close attention to getting the water level just right.

I waited perhaps a fortnight and checked it. No change. Not even a hint of roots.

After another week, I checked again. No change.

After Christmas, I checked again. Something appeared to have grown down into the water below the bulb. I was hoping against hope that it was the beginning of roots. Amore said it looked like fungus of some sort and was the water high enough. I measured the bulb height with a wooden chopstick and marked the level in pencil like a a horticultural growth chart.

One side of the bulb darkened into the ugly plum of a deep bruise. It appeared gradually to be shrinking in on itself. Still no roots. The livid bruise spread farther around the bulb, and it genuinely seemed as if it were rotting, decaying from some unknown, possibly fungal cause. No vertical growth seemed to be happening at all. The chopstick looked like my family growth chart after 7th grade, when my grandfather still insisted on measuring my height every year until into college.

I was disappointed. I told my parents I guess this bulb was a bad one, or else I set it up wrong. I still had the box, so we considered whether the manufacturer might refund the money.

But I hadn’t done that yet. Every time I passed that bulb vase, my heart sank and I cast a sidelong glance to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I thought tomorrow I would add it to Amore’s compost pile and try again next year. That seemed so final though.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this weekend an entire bud had risen overnight above the base of the original bulb. It has grown a half-inch taller since yesterday.

Perhaps to you it looks like an ordinary unremarkable flower bud, green with a few reddish streaks.

To me, it looks like hope, albeit hope in the ordinary human sense of a desire or expectation accompanied by a general feeling it will be fulfilled.

Today I realized what a picture of some of life’s plot twists this has been. It looked like nothing was happening. Then it looked like death was taking hold. Yet all along, life was at work inside, as in a chrysalis. As in a rocky tomb on a spring Saturday morning. Emotionally I had given up on the expectation of fulfilled desire, and that’s when it burst forth so suddenly in a display of the life at work invisibly, all along.

There is still much time for my hope of amaryllis blooms to be disappointed, as merely human hopes are wont to do in even the most promising circumstances.

Judeo-Christian hope, on the other hand, can be sure of ultimate fulfillment no matter how long the wait or unfavorable the appearance of circumstances. The Lexham Bible Dictionary defines Biblical hope like this:

The confidence that, by integrating God’s redemptive acts in the past with trusting human responses in the present, the faithful will experience the fullness of God’s goodness both in the present and in the future.

Biblical faith rests on the trustworthiness of God to keep His promises. 

Though now we wait, perhaps empty-handed, perhaps staring at the promise we want to bloom, Christian hope is not as uncertain as a flower bulb or wished-for good news in the inbox or a test result. Christian hope is an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:18-19), even in the waiting, because Christian hope is built on the character of God. And the character of God has a record of thousands of years of promise-keeping in much more hopeless situations than any I currently face.

The late Christian counselor and teacher David Powlison commented on David’s words in Psalm 31:24 on strength, courage, and  hope:

David’s life, like yours, is full of troubles and discouragement. Yet because God is with him, he has hope. He says, ‘You heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help’ (Psalm 31:22 NIV). And he ends Psalm 31 with this call: ‘Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD’ (v. 24 NIV). David is able to endure with courage because God is with him.

God is calling you to persevere in your suffering, but not by simply gritting your teeth. Persevering through suffering is only possible when you put your hope in the living God. He promises to come near to you, to be present with you, and to let you experience his goodness right in the middle of your pain and difficulty. Jesus was able to persevere through the greatest time of suffering that any human has ever endured. He did this ‘for the joy set before him’ of doing his Father’s will and of bringing salvation to his people (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). As you fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, you will be able to persevere through this time of suffering and find joy in living for God (Take Heart: Daily Devotions to Deepen Your Faith*, p. 21).

This flower has me pondering the knitting together of hope and waiting and goodness today. For you and me and mine, I pray that, in some area where we have been waiting and watching and it looks like nothing is happening—

In some area where we’ve given up (or nearly so)—

I pray that the Lord would break through with a bud of resurrection hope: perhaps not the full bloom all at once (or perhaps so!), but an unmistakeable yes and amen to some promise or desire we once were sure came from God, but now we’re not so certain.

As we wait for the ultimate and blessed Hope of righteousness at the Lord’s return, may we also wait in courageous hope of His good faithfulness to his children here and now, even in the land of the living.

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