I watch the candle flicker in the corner of my room.
The yellow-orange glow reflecting onto my windowsill and up the shade of my window reminds me of Christmas lights, which takes me back four years ago in a small room in the basement of an on-campus building.
Down the stairs to the left, down the hall, to the right, and another left would bring a passerby to the entrance of the room. Someone told me once they like to take their shoes off when they went inside. I can remember only once where I didn’t follow their advice.
Inside, there were a few chairs in the back and 5 or so rows of pews. There was a table, and an altar-type structure, as if it were a small church hidden away from the chaos of the world. The soft glow of strings of lights and completed journals on the table in the back made it feel as though it was a world like Narnia. Hundreds of prayers from past students, some journals dating back to before I was born, all waited in that room. Many of those prayers were the same ones I was praying: to get good grades, find a boyfriend, to seek God more. I laugh now, knowing those things were the very least of the things that God already had under control all along.
Somewhere along those years, the room changed shape for me. I did not visit as often in the second and third year combined as I did in the first alone. But that is the way life goes: we find new places, and grow in communities, and the places we went alone become a quiet memory. But there have been nights I have wondered what my faith journey would have looked like had I traded some nights out for quiet nights in with God.
Fast forward a month after that year four years ago, and I was on a college visit with my brother to Loyola in Chicago. I showed up to the campus with a broken foot, a broken heart, and just-healed lungs from a case of walking pneumonia (it’s okay, you can laugh– the thought of a simultaneous case of a broken foot and walking pneumonia is funny). But what I learned in that moment was that a broken heart will find anything to latch onto, and mine chose to latch onto a college I barely even know in a city that did not know my name. It left me irrationally sobbing at a cafeteria table.
“But you love Hope,” my mom told me. She was right. But that statement has never had the same depth as it has as of tonight.
And tonight, as I was drifting off to sleep in my apartment in Chicago, four years later, before 10pm for once, I felt my soul tell itself something important: “It’s okay.”
I immediately woke up, feeling as though someone had spoken it directly into my chest. Something, somewhere deep inside of me brought back every moment over the past four years that I had chosen hopelessness– times that didn’t even make sense not to have hope– and my soul instead told those places that it was okay. That I was safe now. That I truly am different.
It was as though my soul was comforting a child-, the past me that didn’t know any better. And I was content, knowing that from this day forward, as for me, I will always have hope. The verse itself flowed out of my soul just as the permission and forgiveness to be hopeless had just moments before. And even more of the passage erupted from my soul, as the verse says, as for me, I will always have hope, and I will praise you more and more.
It took me back to last Sunday, the first time I had been to church in a while. And I came into a time during worship with God where I was sorting out things in my heart and felt discouraged, and I sat down during the beginning of the service as everyone continued standing around me.
And I heard a quiet, strong voice tell me in a rumbled tone, “you can sit through your times of discouragement and wait on Me, or you can stand and worship Me through it.”
In that moment, the Lord showed me the reality of hope without giving it a name (until tonight). As I watch the candle flicker in the corner of my room, I think about the next time I’ll have to switch out its batteries (It’s flameless, and I’m a culprit of leaving it on all of the time). I wonder how long it will endure, and I sometimes have wondered the same about myself. But I am reminded that the difficult times are what produces that endurance we so deeply seek.
As I build that endurance, I begin to grow in character. And as my character begins to reflect the person of God, I in turn am able to trade it in for hope. That’s the way it’s written in Romans 5.
And what hope has given us, inadvertently or intentionally so, is the power to forgive, as we are given the ability to see a future that is better than the present. How strange and beautiful it is to have a light that shines in one place, and instead begins to illuminate others.