Young children are remarkably resilient persons. It is as if God encoded into their childlike points-of-view the possibility that the future has great hope for improving on the present and past. Part of this might be due to their characteristic narrow perspective, mostly being alert to their thoughts and feelings, rather than the broader flow of society. Of course, there are some kids who feel less positive, fallen human beings that they are, just like the rest of us. Each is unique, facing distinct challenges at home, in the community and in the deep places of their hearts. Some of the situations they face are so downright perplexing that it is difficult not to despair over their prospects. And so we wrestle with hope….
It is easy for church people to give trite answers to the honest, pointed queries children ask of us. Here are two samples taken from my childhood, both occurring when I was about six years old:
Child: “Will I ever get married?”
Adult: “Oh, of course. Everyone gets married!”
Child: “Will I go to heaven when I die?”
Adult: “It’s worth a try.”
These are actual questions I asked as a young boy and the real responses I received from church-going adults on two unique occasions. The first, regarding marriage, seems innocent enough, given that the adult was from the older generation and had a bit of a different perspective on marriage. Yet, the reality is that I never married, as is the case with a growing number of young adults. So when we receive that kind of question from children, what is our responsibility to them? Make a grand promise? Or assure them of God’s love and care for them and that he knows their hearts and has a wonderful plan for their lives? Does hope require us to provide definitive answers to honest queries, or is it more appropriate to teach children the awesome character of God and his provision for them without making sweeping statements concerning their futures?
The second interaction, as hard to believe as it is, deeply affected me. It is not clear whether the adult in this conversation truly understood the my question, but it is clear that it caused me great grief. It shook my faith. It caused me to wrestle with hope, albeit in my limited childlike way. The good news is I went to my mother late one night and told her all about it. She comforted me, in her nurturing way. She led me to faith in Jesus, helping me to begin my faith journey, hoping in Jesus, but realizing I need to follow him.
I still wrestle with hope. I am confident in Jesus, to be sure. I am hopeful for the future although it often seems opaque, at least as it relates to my own life. When I look at the lives of others it seems so much clearer. I suppose the perspective of distance has its advantages. I want to inspire hope in the kids and families I pastor. Yet, I am cognizant of my own insecurities: my personal struggle to make sense of the tension between injustice and God’s sovereignty; my responsibility to take initiative as a pastor and Christ follower, and the horrible affliction of evil which threatens both me and the people I lead with temptations to sin and reject God. The last thing I want to be is a sham, saying one thing and believing quite another.
I trust in God. Of that, I have no doubt. Yet, with the Apostle Paul as he writes in Romans chapter seven, I understand my own proclivity to make wrong-headed choices. So I run back to Jesus Christ, casting my cares on him, asking him once again to birth in me the hope only he can provide, so that I, in turn, may spill over with hope to the generations with whom I share my life in whatever time I have remaining. Living a life of hope truly is a wrestling match, one that I choose to give over to Jesus, rather than to despair.