In the midst of winter, we so often wish for spring as the harsh whistling wind tugs at the scarves we wrap about our necks and the snow heaps high under our windowsills. We love the snow that falls for Christmas but wish it would be gone by January if we live in the northern hemisphere.
From childhood onward we are encouraged to make a wish when we blow out the candles on our birthday cakes or toss coins into a fountain, but somewhere along the way we start to interchange the word “wish” with “hope,” using them as if they mean exactly the same thing, but do they?
The dictionary defines wishing as “a strong desire for something that is not easily attainable, wanting something that probably will not happen.” But the definition for the word hope is not really saying the same thing – “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”
You probably think I am splitting hairs again with the definitions, but I think that it is significant for us to be clear about what words mean and how we use them. The context in which we use these words, and the specificity of their meanings matter more than we think. (Little wonder that pastors who diligently study the Bible look at the original Greek and Hebrew words to be certain the text and the context is saying what was intended.)
Words, languages, are how we connect with one another. Often our difficulty with misunderstanding and division can begin with the words we use that may convey different meanings to someone else than they do to us or not even mean what we actually think they mean because we have not really checked to be sure our communication is clear and accurate.
I wish that weather was more consistent and pleasant. That would be a way to view the word “wish.” But I “hope” that our guests enjoy the dinner I have prepared more accurately points to the definition of the word “hope.”
We sometimes hesitate to use the word “hope” because it does sound like we are counting on something to happen and that puts us on the spot in any number of ways with those who hear us say whatever it is.
“All acts of hope expose themselves to ridicule because they seem impractical, failing to conform to visible reality. But in fact they are the reality that is being constructed but is not yet visible. Hope commits us to actions that connect with God’s promises.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
One of the great examples that fits with the concept Peterson describes is found in a well-known passage in Hebrews:
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
Maybe we can all grow in our respect for the words that can so easily slip from our tongues or pens, but also respect the value and need to hear words that encourage, inspire, comfort, nourish, or challenge us to be better than we may be if we have not heard them or spoken them. Reading Hebrews 11:1 reminds me (perhaps you) that it appears faith activates hope.
“Biblical hope, though, is an act…Hope acts on the conviction that God will complete the work that he has begun even when the appearances, especially when appearances, oppose it.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
Peterson goes on from this statement to quote William Stringfellow whose words spell this out more specifically: “Hope is reliance upon grace in the face of death: the issue is that of receiving life as a gift, not as a reward and not as a punishment; hope is living constantly, patiently, expectantly, resiliently, joyously in the efficacy of the word of God.”
Wishing is looking at the heaps of snow, listening to the howling winds, and shivering in the icy temperatures and wishing it would go away. Hope is seeing, sensing, and feeling all those things and looking for the crocuses to pop up their heads from the snow.
“It is, of course, far easier to languish in despair than to live in hope, for when we live in despair, we don’t have to do anything or risk anything. We can live lazily and shiftlessly with an untarnished reputation for practicality, current with the way things appear. It is fashionable to espouse the latest cynicism. If we live in hope, we go against the stream.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
It can be easy on wintry days, days of chaos and growing darkness and confusion to leave hope out of our arsenal to face these things we would prefer not to, things we wish would go away. That would be a sure way to upend us. But we must resist that temptation and steadfastly move to act on what we believe Christ points to over and over again. Otherwise, we will only see giants in the land and miss the fruit He has provided as well.