Sometimes, I write a blog post and don’t want to share it because I don’t know enough about the subject, or because I’m not sure it makes sense, or because it’s sarcastic to the point of being mean.
And sometimes I write a blog post and don’t want to share it because I know it will make my mom cry. And that, my friends, is a very serious thing.
That was the case exactly a year ago when I wrote about visiting my church for the first time.
You can read the whole thing if you like, but here’s the summary: I was very, very lonely that first Sunday. Reading it again, I’m not entirely sure how I expected the people around me to know what I needed if I didn’t ask for it.
I think I was actually upset at God for not intervening—God, who knew that I had recently moved, God who knew how lost I felt in a big city, God who knew I just wanted a family. Couldn’t he have told other people?
But he didn’t, and if he had, there’s a lot I wouldn’t have learned, most of which I will save for another blog post. Here’s just one lesson from my time developing a “theology of loneliness.”
A few friends asked me why I went back to my church after that first Sunday. Well, lots of reasons. For one, I realized that I should actually make more of an effort to get to know people instead of expecting them to do all the work. Also, many people I respect told me it’s always hard to connect to a church at first, and to give it a little more time.
But most importantly, when I prayed about where to go the next Sunday, one thought kept repeating through my mind: this would be the absolute worst way to end this story.
And I decided, no. I will not let my interaction with this church end with me curled on the carpet of my apartment in my Sunday dress sobbing and wanting to go home. I. Will. Not.
I will love these people. I will let them love me. We will be family, this will be home, I am not leaving.
It doesn’t have to end this way, because God is the storyteller who redeems broken things and gives them happy endings. Not always in the way we expect, not always here, not always on our timetable. But maybe if I wait around long enough, if I take tiny risks, if I refuse to give up…maybe then I will see a change that makes me want to cry for an entirely different reason.
There has got to be a better ending out there.
And, as it turned out, there was. Yesterday, at church, people knew my name and gave me advice and made fun of me and saved me a seat and let me hang out with their children for the afternoon and gave me strange looks when I referred to said hang out time as a “kidnapping.”
Yesterday, people gave me hugs.
This, friends, matters. It is what I was blindly praying for that day a year ago when I wrote in my journal, “Hope does not disappoint.”
Because sometimes hope is not a passive thing that flutters into our lives exactly when we want it to, forming a calming theological blanket over our spirit so we can sleep in perfect peace.
Sometimes, hope is a thing we fight for. Sometimes it only comes after long and lonely nights, or with conviction over sin in our own lives, or into circumstances that don’t change at all.
Why? Because the context of that pithy little inspirational quote—“Hope does not disappoint” is bookended with the unchanging reality of the cross.
You feel lonely, Amy? Jesus died for you. You’re upset with the church for not reaching out to you? Jesus died for them. You wonder why God could easily intervene and make your life less miserable…but hasn’t? Jesus died for you, reconciled you to God, gave you an eternal home and freedom from sin and the ability to love others—really, what else matters in comparison to that?
Jesus died, and there is hope.
That’s how the letter to the church from the lonely should end, not with my happy ending in this particular situation, because some people are still waiting for a happy ending. Some people may be waiting for a very long time.
My hope is not in my circumstances, because those change. My hope is not in my emotions, because those change even more often. My hope is in Christ and the cross. That’s the concluding statement I was waiting for, the one that was true all along, but that it took a while for me to feel.
And that is a beautiful ending.