Over the past week, the American news has been filled with talk of first anniversaries related to the pandemic: churches and workplaces closing, masks appearing, people hunkering down around the world. It was a time of much uncertainty and many unknowns. One year later, there is still much we don’t know, but there is more hope as infection and hospitalization rates fall from wintertime highs. While we still have a lot to learn about COVID-19, vaccines and mask-wearing seem to be making a difference and we can join our president in imagining small summertime gatherings that might feel more like “normal.”
Last week, I began a short Lenten series of reflections on faith, hope, and love. Today I want to ponder hope. Like love, the concept of hope has been “secularized” in our culture. We hope we’ll get a vaccine appointment soon. We’re optimistic about having a “normal” summer with vacations and family visits and trips to the beach or the mountains. These are valid hopes, but hope meant something deeper in scripture.
In his letter to the Romans (people living in the heart of the greatest empire of their day), the apostle Paul wrote this:
Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Undoubtedly there was suffering in ancient Rome. Even (perhaps especially) in the center of any empire, poor and powerless people are ignored by those at the top (as there are in Washington, DC today). Suffering has existed in every nation throughout history. But while there is always suffering, I sense the COVID-19 pandemic has made us more aware of it, and more connected to the communal nature of our suffering.
There’s also more to life than the suffering, and I sense that we are forgetting, as a culture, how to move beyond it. We don’t always follow this trajectory that Paul describes. We don’t develop endurance; instead, we wallow in self-pity and grief. The experience of suffering doesn’t strengthen our character. We don’t find things to hope for because we’d rather spend our time and energy focusing on blame and “the other.” Perhaps as a result, our hearts aren’t open to the inpouring of God’s love.
I grieve the loss of hope in this country—that deeper sense of hope in communally enduring something together, and having the character to reach out and support each other instead of finding scapegoats, vilifying and blaming each other. But we can do our part to shift that narrative. We can spread hope and encourage courage. We can lift each other up instead of tearing each other down.
How might you spread hope this week?