If I had to make a list of my favourite words, some would make it onto the list because they’re such fun to say: blubber, mellifluous, windsock.
Others would make it because their meaning is so powerful. Top of that list for me would be ‘Hope’.
Hope is about being able to look to the future with confidence. It’s about being able to see a better tomorrow. It’s about having a reason for living. But hope isn’t the same as cheery optimism. Optimism means looking on the bright side, whether or not you have reason for it. Some people are optimistic just because they’ve got a sunny temperament. But hope goes deeper. It’s based on something more solid, knowing you have a purpose in life, a vision of a better future.
The result of losing hope, or never finding hope in the first place, can be devastating. When we lose hope, all we have left to focus on is the size of our problems. When we lose hope, we have no reason to get up in the morning.
In the Bible, the image of the dark valley is used to portray the loss of hope. Those moments when it feels as if hope and light will never return. The prophet Ezekiel has a vision of Death Valley, a valley of dry bones. Psalm 23, the famous Psalm that begins with the words ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’, talks about walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
But the Bible writers don’t leave the story there. The writer of the Psalm says, ‘Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you are with me’. It’s a lovely image of having a Companion who’s there even in the darkest times, bringing strength and comfort for the journey.
We all have times when it feels as if we’re stuck in the dark valley, as if all hope is gone. Frankly, January doesn’t help: Christmas has become a dim memory, while the arrival of Spring still feels a long way off.
If that’s true for you at the moment, it’s my hope and my prayer that you’ll find you’re not alone in the valley. That you’ll find fresh hope for tomorrow.
And, as the chill winds of January blow, may we each discover how we can be a channel of hope for another person too.
Mike Starkey is a tutor for Church Army and creator of Church Army’s Faith Pictures and Why on Earth…? resources for small groups.
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