Well, here I am at o-dark-thirty, as they say. I tried reading to get myself tired. Then--finally tired--I tried laying in bed for an hour. But the same thing keeps me awake, and for once it's not my husband's snoring. It's the idea of hope.
Hope is the fuel our lives are driven on at all times. Hope is what causes us to start something, to work hard, and to endure to an end. Lack of hope is what causes us to terminate our project early. Hope in one thing stronger than hope in another thing often strongly affects our preference. Hope, you could say, defines our gods. Where our hope is, there our heart, our life is. Without hope, there is no will.
In the Christian life, trust, hope, and love are the three defining virtues or tennets or elements or whatever that define what we believe, how we believe it, and how we are affected by it. Love is the greatest of the three. But hope is the most imaginative.
Hope, you could almost say, is creativity. We invent when we need something to hope in--or want something to hope in, or simply because we are addicted to hope and the joy that it brings. (This is not a bad thing; many an artist and artisan continues in their form because they love creating hope for others in what they do.) Imagination is the machine--the computational element we were designed with--that allows us to hope, which allows us to live.
Hope is the power of life or death in a hard situation. Hope may be the only thing that keeps the characters of your favorite novel or TV series going when they are trapped and facing insurmountable odds. Hope may be the impetus by which we go out and defeat the impossible. Hope is there when everything is dark. I believe hope is part of how we are In God's Image, that is, created to be a smaller similar to our Creator.
But hope is more than just an angel in times of trouble. Hope is, for instance, what leads someone to look at porn: the hope, perhaps, that such a woman or man would indeed want you and love you. Or perhaps the lack of hope that any real woman or man would want you. Hope, or lack of hope, is why we apply for the jobs we do, or settle for the jobs we do. Hope is why the vast majority of our globe calls out to a God.
Hope is so, so powerful. It leads us and, sometimes, even enslaves us. Hope can be the master of us. Whatever your hope is dependent upon will be your God, your comfort zone, your dream, your fantasy, your goal, your strength, and your motive. How strong your hope is will affect how strongly you push forward towards the end that you hope for: it will affect how much you can endure, and for what cause.
Through hoping for one thing, and not hoping for another, we can be enslaved to an idea or goal that is not good for us, or not the best for us. The man who does not believe he is smart enough for college or thinks he won't like white-collar "uppity" jobs will not hope for them and not strive for them. Instead, he will hope for something else--a steady blue-collar job, or a wonderful and fun wife; or perhaps it will be no big hope at all, like hoping he can just scrape by day after day and have enough to pay the bills. Girls who don't believe they are smart, or desired and loved by people, or worth more, will allow themselves to be sold for sex again and again and again. They have no hope, and this is what the sex trafficking industry is founded upon.
There is no way to keep from being enslaved to something: we will strive for something, love something, die for something. We must. We must have something to believe in, other than our own success. Life must be about something. For as many bad things as there are to be enslaved to, there are good things to be enslaved to. Or, "enthralled with." It sounds better. You might not realize that "thrall" means slave. To be enthralled, captivated, enslaved to something good and worthwhile--this is a good life. To hope for what is good. If hope is so powerful, it is important we know what we are striving for, and choose the right thing.
Which means it's important we exercise our imagination. What we can imagine, we can believe in; and if we can believe it possible, we can have hope and strive forward.
What do you fantasize about? A new car. A calm, clean home. A satisfying job. Good friends. Acceptance. Respect from your boss. A gorgeous spouse. C'mon, let's be honest. What do you want? Because even if it's something dark that you don't want to admit to yourself, you need to look at it straight on, because it is going to control you if you don't. Don't be ashamed: look it in the eye. What do you want? What do you dream of?
I dream about having a medium-sized home with my own study, and a big desk where I can do my writing right in front of a big window overlooking my garden of flowers. I fantasize about having sheep--I really do. And a great dane and some cats. I dream about being able to write all day long. I dream of my writing being published and reaching millions of people, and bringing joy, hope, and beauty to them. I dream about having solar panels and other alternate forms of electricity so we can be totally off-grid. I dream of being completely local and sustainable in all our food and energy sources.
I dream all the time about the man who is currently snoring into his pillow behind me. I dream all sorts of things we will do together throughout our long lives. Of being united together; fighting and forgiving; growing stronger; learning to love each other better. I fantasize about going to Europe, finally, one day. I dream about getting pregnant and having kids--many years from now of course--and adopting kids and homeschooling all of them. I dream about raising them with strong convictions and all the stubbornness my husband and me bring to the genetic table (which is maybe too much). I sometimes fantasize about planting a church, my husband and me and a group of devoted others, with all the struggles and joys that would entail.
It's our daydreams, our deep-down fantasies that define who we are. They make up our life's journey: we carried them with us from our past and they mark the paths we take with our future. My dream of planting a church comes from dissatisfaction with some of the churches I've attended and a deep-rooted belief that some of our theology has slipped ever so slightly askew, enough for us to have problems answering basic questions about why Jesus died, what baptism and communion are, what worship is and isn't. I have a belief that it doesn't take much to clear up some of the simple misconceptions, and that belief of mine drives a hope that we can do so. That hope blossoms in my imagination as a daydream of planting a church.
People often forget that what we think about--what we imagine--is what we become. The more you habituate something in your mind, the more likely it is forming a habit in your life. When you think about your weight and appearance all the time, you start doing things about it--eating less, working out, whatever. Whether healthy or not, your thinking about it and imagining it in your head (what you think you look like and what you could look like) turns into action. Habits of mind and feeling become the habits of life.
This is why, when you try to think of not doing something, you do it. The young person who wants to save sexual relations for marriage does best when they think of ways of avoiding the temptation, rather than secretly daydreaming about it.
We think our thoughts are harmless, but every indulgence of the heart leads to an excess of the imagination. A girl may know she needs to break up with her boyfriend because the relationship has become unhealthy; perhaps the guy keeps pushing her to go farther than she wants to, or perhaps they keep arguing and growing farther and farther apart, or maybe she realizes that they've based this thing on something other than love--their desire to have a mate, rather than a desire for each other. She may know the course of actions she needs to take, but in her heart she does not wish to, and in her mind she imagines if he just did this or that better, or if they just talked this through, or if they could only do that more often... The more she imagines it, the more she begins to hope that it could happen. Over time she persuades herself to hope, and hope drives her away from breaking off the relationship. Why else do people stay in abusive relationships? They hope things will get better; and they have no hope that things could be better elseways (a known evil is better than the unknown, they demur).
Our daydreams define us, and they enslave us, because they prepare us and train us for a certain type, a certain version, of reality.
When I was growing up, I used to imagine all manner of bad things happening. In each scenario, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Suppose a fire burned down my house, or everyone I know contracted a terminal illness, or someone was hunting me down to kill me, or I was abducted by terrorists. I imagined what I would do--who I would go to, how I would attack, or escape, or seek help. A defining time was when my daydreams changed: God entered my scenarios, and I imagined I would pray, worship, share Jesus. No matter the torture or pressure or threat or loss, I always imagined myself being strengthened by God, being able to worship like Stephen did when he was being stoned, and sharing the love, joy, and news of forgiveness of Jesus Christ with jailers and fellow prisoners, with doctors and nurses, terrorists and FBI agents--whatever the scene.
It may sound silly, and even like self-centered heroism, but those daydreams, where Christ was always praised by everyone in the end as the victor, were a huge source of strength to me later on. As my fantasies of lasting through terrible situations were changed by my hope in a higher power, my imagination shaped my actions and sensibilities in a more persevering, patient, and loving direction. I still daydream sometimes, and when I do, I try not to be a doomsday dreamer nor a self-glorifying one, but to end with remembering how the story really would end: with Christ in, around, and over the whole situation.
Whether Christ enters into your worldview and daydreams or not, we all need to exercise our imaginations. We need to dwell on what is good and stop dwelling on the negative. A bit of Biblical wisdom that I think should we should all take heed of, Christian or not, says that "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
Take a good look at your fantasies and daydreams. They will tell you about your heart. Now take heart: pick a new dream. Surround yourself with people who will believe in it with you--and for you at times. If you see in yourself dreams of being more attractive that you know are causing you to live an unhealthy lifestyle, surround yourself with people who know your struggles, believe you are beautiful, and will tell you every day. You may not believe it enough yet to have hope, but as you hope even to believe it, your imagination will start turning into action. Imagine, and the impossible begins to become attainable.
For Christians, I think our job of exercising our imaginations becomes even more specific. In the New Testament, talk of our hope most often refers to our hope of what is to come. Okay, so you're talking about heaven. But not just heaven. Not just flying up somewhere in the sky and worshiping Jesus all day long. Maybe some people like that idea, or maybe you think that when you get there Jesus will make it enjoyable; but to me that sounds boring. My faith is not as strong as yours.
But instead, my imagination goes wild. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven (or kingdom of God), he's often actually talking about right here. Earth. He says "the kingdom of heaven has come." Long story short, we're dealing with the God who--remember--came down and died for his creatures whom he loved so, so much. He could have killed us all--don't we know that? But God doesn't scrap creation; he always comes down into the story and makes it new. Like it was before, in the beginning, when he created. We are dealing with a God who wants to--and is going to--make Eden out of the whole universe again. He's waiting, we're told, for everyone to have a chance to hear about his big plan and get a chance to be a part of the restoration work He's doing (yes, it's started already!!). And in the end of time, that work will be completed. That complete, whole, restored creation-redemption is what we're hoping for.
Leaving us with the most important question: what will it be like?
Don't call me an authority on these things, but there's a few things I know and I've imagined a lot more from there. So go with me on this, and maybe you'll add a few of your own creative ideas--or correct some of mine--along the way.
There won't be any pain. Or crying, or sorrow, or loss. No fear of anything, therefore. We won't be frustrated or angry. There will be work. I mean, fun work. Like, do what you want to do. And if you're thinking, "well, that's so boring if everything is perfect; what do I do?" then you don't understand. Right now, even when you do what you love most (for me it's writing), there are all sorts of pressures and frustrations. Maybe I can't get something published that I really want published or I have writer's block. If it's because people don't like my work, that won't be a problem in heaven: diversity will be celebrated and there will be unique space for everyone and everyone's passions and works to be loved and appreciated as they are. If I have writer's block, why is that a problem? Because my life is finite, and I want to finish certain works before I die. But in heaven, death is not an issue. What reason will there ever be to get impatient? We have all the time in the world--perhaps even be outside of time.
There will be science of all types. I love what one of my favorite speakers Stanford Gibson said in one of his talks (I think it was this one): the first thing Adam did was name the animals. That's science! Adam studied the animals and named them--heck, maybe he even did the whole kingdom-phylum / genus-species thing. And he started tending to this garden: i.e. agriculture. He started studying the way things worked and making them better. That's how we're made: to work, to try to understand things, to learn, to improve stuff, to build stuff. We're creative because we're in the image of a creative God (I mean, just look at what he invented). We're going to keep doing that in the kingdom of heaven.
And it might not work every time, either. You might try to invent a new light-bulb but you come up with a thousand other things first. Okay, great! You have eternity to figure out what you're doing, why it works that way, how to use all this stuff you accidentally made. Work won't necessarily be easy; but we won't be impatient or irritable. All the catalysts for bad attitude and bad heart will be gone.
And you'll have not just everything to explore--from quantum physics to sociolinguistics--but everywhere. For my part, I'm going to start with earth, but there's a whole universe out there. Whether you build a spaceship or God lets you fly there... Yes, I believe we will have the ability to fly. And a lot of other things. I think God is fun, and I think all fun things will be in the kingdom of heaven. Like really, really big trampolines. In the kingdom of heaven, with no death or pain to fear, I'll finally be unafraid and able to go skydiving! Yeah!! Who knows, there might even be dragons in heaven.
And there's just so much to do. In the kingdom of heaven, there won't be all this competition. So who cares if someone else does it, or does it better; the point is getting to do it. It glorifies God if you learn to play the cello. Or if you decide to build your own house. That's one of my goals in the kingdom of heaven. I'm going to go to Iceland and, with the help of whoever else is in kingdom-of-heaven-Iceland at the time, I'm going to collect building materials from nature and fashion everything from the ground up. We are talking a modern house here, so this will take a while. Somehow I'll wire the place for electricity and build solar panels...after mining the minerals and stuff myself and melting them down or whatever into wires and such. It's going to be fun!
And the whole time, there's going to be Jesus. Oh, I have all sorts of questions to ask him. Questions about the universe, about him. I have theological questions that I doubt will be answered in this life. I also want to know all those writing ideas I have had throughout my life that I forget right when I go to write them down. (This is what reassures me every time that I sit down at my computer only to realize a perfectly good poem or story or essay has taken wing and is gone.) I want to look back on my life and see it all through his eyes. I want to sit in his lap. I want to sit around a fire with a big group of people and hear everyone's stories, and see Jesus' eyes shining and hear his laugh as he listens and talks. I want to walk into the throne room of God and be utterly speechless. Isaiah and John couldn't hardly describe it; I doubt I will, either. But I want to try. For the glory of God, to reflect and communicate just a little bit of that glory, I want to try.
These are the dreams that keep me going when life gets toughest. Stretch your imagination. This is what we're striving for. Remembering the kingdom which I am headed to makes me say, like David, "with my God, I can leap over a wall!" Imagine the God you love and serve. Imagine him smiling down on you. Think of him hugging you, putting a hand on your shoulder and looking into your eye and saying, "good one." Picture him laughing when you tell that corny joke that no one else gets (that happens to me a lot). He's there. Real. The more we imagine, the more we remember and think and hope, the more our actions and our lives reflect what we profess and believe. Belief must turn to imagery, and imagery to action, if we are ever to reach our goal.
There's a tough road ahead. Life gives you lemons right when you get cut, and it stings. A lot. We need something to fight for. Something worth dying for, and worth living for. Something that can hold us through any fear, any temptation. Hope must keep us going. Let us strengthen our hope and strengthen our imagination. We can do this. Just don't lose hope. Don't lose sight of the goal.
Hope is the ability to lift your head when you are tired of running, and see the light at the end of the tunnel, and run on even faster.
It's 3 am. I think it's time to finish with the daydreams and go have a real dream. Maybe now that I've lived out this little dream of penning these words, I'll be able to.
If you're not a Christian and these weird ideas about heaven sound at all intriguing or confusing to you (like, "wait, what? Christians believe that?"), I love talking about this. Heaven, I mean. I could talk your ear off about it--it's my hope, the thing that drives me. So if you want to know more, or if you're really skeptical, I'd really like to hear your ideas. Challenge me; it's how people grow. Ask me hard questions I don't know the answer to. Maybe together we can figure out this big, grand thing called life.