These days Anne Lamott may be an accomplished skier, but a few years ago she would warm up with the beginners for a while and then stick with the easiest intermediate slope. Once, after several goes on her usual course, she hopped on the chairlift for yet another run and grew momentarily confused. The jump-off looked unfamiliar, and before she realized that it was indeed the correct one, Anne found herself five or so feet above the ground, heading toward a more difficult trail. She dove from the moving chair. Not with a confident, James Bond–like leap. It was more of a tumble that ended with a crash landing. Most of her fellow skiers pretended not to have seen what happened. She waved off the few sympathetic witnesses who offered to help, acting as if this is just the sort of quirky thing she does. And then the nausea hit. On the verge of passing out, she asked Jesus for help. She writes,
“I don’t know how long I stood there with my hand clamped to my mouth, only my poles and a frayed, consignment-store faith to support me. All I knew was that help is always on the way, a hundred percent of the time. . . . I know that when I call out, God will be near, and hear, and help eventually. Of course, it is the “eventually” that throws one into despair.”
This is a book for those of us who are feeling the weight of that “eventually.” For those whose struggles have been long and for those who are growing weary from heavy burdens. For those facing an unforeseen crisis or for those enduring a slow personal train wreck. For those whose throats have grown raw from crying for justice and for those whose wounds have gone unhealed. This is a book about hope, and I have written it especially for those who refuse to yield to discouragement and despair.
I follow Jesus, so anything I say about hope ends up pointing in his direction in some unexpected ways. So let me admit from the start that many of the typical reasons Christians give for having hope don’t work for me—something we will be exploring throughout this book. Some of us derive our hope from the doctrines of the Resurrection and the Second Coming. In the next life, we will be free from the sorrow, pain, and strife of this one. We will be reunited with those we love and reconciled to everyone. God will set all things right. The wolf will lie down with the lamb. There will be perfect justice and perpetual peace. I believe in life after life—in the resurrection of the body, and I believe that God is at work restoring the entire creation to a wholeness that exceeds even my wildest imaginings. Yet, my assent to these doctrines is not what gives me hope.
Hope is something more, something deeper and more abiding. Hope is what keeps us going when the odds just don’t seem to be in our favor. The setbacks are piling up, but still we get out of bed morning after morning. That’s hope. We keep swimming even though the tide is against us. Hope tells us, “It’s worth it.” Doctrines don’t do this, at least not for me. But God does, and I don’t mean my idea of God. I mean my awareness of God at work in all the messy places of my life, my awareness of God raising me to a new life through forgiveness and self-acceptance, my awareness of God mending relationships, changing hearts, and healing wounds. This is God’s love made real in the particulars of my life. My experience of the relentless power of God’s love in these ways gives me the sense that this life—the one I am actually living in all its sweetness and frustration, joy and pain—is worth living.
Hope is knowing in your gut, in the center of your being, that your life is worth living even when you have grown bone weary with struggle, sorrow, anxiety, and grief. You have felt the weight of that “eventually” while waiting on God’s promises. You have had what I call an “Ecclesiastes Moment.”