We Had Hoped
By Beth Bramstedt
Published in INSIGHT - Summer 2016
It was a Thursday morning in May of 2015, and I sat sipping coffee at the bar in my kitchen, enjoying the company of two very dear friends. The tone was light, the conversation uplifting, and the mood peaceful. By all outward appearances, it was like any other Thursday morning of any other week.
But this Thursday was different.
It was the morning after celebrating 25 years of service on staff with my church, and marked my first day of retirement from full-time pastoral ministry.
In that moment I felt loved and satisfied, hopeful, and free. I opened cards and gifts from those wishing me well and thanking me for the investment I made in their spiritual journey. My friends and I shared memories of serving together and exchanged stories of life change. I felt confident in my decision and excited about the future.
But that day was as oasis in the midst of a dry, barren season of what was and what was yet to come.
A Long Walk
You see, I had entered ministry with hopes and dreams. I wanted to give my life to serving Christ and serving others through the local church. In 2012, I solidified that commitment through ordination. I had a vision for living out my days doing ministry in the place I loved, with the people I loved. I dreamed of passing the church off to the next generation and being around to mentor and equip young leaders. My plans involved retirement eventually, but at age 65 or 75, not 45.
Yet on that day in May, I found myself in the middle of a very different story.
I had come through 18 months of pain and hurt, confusion and grief, much of it precipitated by those in the church whom I loved and trusted. I had agonized and discerned for months about how to respond. And on that day, I sat on the other side of my decision to leave staff, still wounded and staring blankly at an unknown future.
Looking back, I can identify with the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus three days after the crucifixion. Luke 24:14 recounts the two men walking along and “talking about everything that had happened.” Jesus approached and engaged them in conversation, but the disciples did not recognize him. He asked the disciples what they were discussing so intently. They stopped talking, sadness covering their faces.
“You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard,” they said. They began to describe who Jesus was and to explain the events of the past few days. In the midst of their dialog, they uttered three small words that cut to the core of the pain stirring inside their souls …
“We had hoped…”
“We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel,” they shared.
We had hoped.
They had been called by Jesus, invited to join his ministry. They had traveled with him, prayed with him, and served alongside him. They had heard him preach and seen him heal. And then, just a few days earlier, they had watched him die.
And I had hoped. I had hoped and dreamed that my dedication and sacrifice to Christ and his church would continue to bring life and bear fruit, not end with a feeling of death.
In her book, Life Together in Christ, Ruth Haley Barton describes the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus as the road between the now and the not yet - a time and space where one has left the tried and true, and has yet to replace it with something else. She calls it a time for intimate emotions and dangerous questions.
I believe it is also a time for grieving dashed hopes, recognizing necessary endings, and eventually cultivating the seeds of a new future.
This road was the place the disciples found themselves on that day, and the space I, too, would resonate with in the days and months to come.
For we had hoped.
A Fresh Perspective
Yet an interesting thing happens next in the Luke 24 story. In the midst of their grief, Christ calls his disciples to find hope with a new perspective, to see the events of Passion Week as a fulfillment of his promise, not a deviation from it.
“Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” he asked, gently reminding them of the prophetic writings of the past. It is as if he was nudging them to stop and look beyond their current reality.
No matter the circumstances leading up to that day in May, or the fairness of my situation, I too was stuck in an old paradigm, resistant to change. I had found safety and stability in my life and my calling, and was not ready for the dream to end. Like the disciples, I struggled to find a new hope in my future. I needed fresh eyes.
In his book, Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud admonishes his readers to see change differently, to view endings as a normal part of life rather than a problem.
“If a situation falls within the range of expected and known, the human brain automatically marshals all available resources and moves to engage it,” Cloud says. “But if the brain interprets the situation as dangerous or unknown, a fight or flight response kicks in that moves us away from the issue or begins to resist it.”
In a negatively perceived situation, execution stops or automatically reverses direction.
That would have been nice to know at the time!
“Put into the context of endings, if you see them as normal, and even a good thing,” Cloud continues, “you will embrace them and take action to execute them. You will see them as a painful gift. But if you see endings as something wrong, you will resist them or fight them long past when they should be fought.”
Did I see my ending as a painful gift?
Initially, I only saw the pain. The gift took longer to recognize.
One of my favorite definitions of vision comes from Pastor Bill Hybels who describes it as “a picture of the future that produces passion in you.” In life and ministry, our plans and dreams are incredibly emotional because they are tied to our deepest passions and desires. No wonder it is hard to give up our visions of the future. Just like the disciples, our visions are deeply connected to our identity in Christ and our hope.
Yet if the disciples had continued to resist Christ’s need to die physically in order to set up His Kingdom, they risked not being an active participant in God’s greater purpose. And if I continued to see change as a negative, I would be unable to move forward into what God had next for me.
A New Hope
Thankfully for the disciples, the truth about their future became clear quickly. In verses 28-31, the disciples invited Jesus home with them. As they sat down to eat, Jesus blessed the bread and their eyes were opened. They recognized him immediately. He was alive.
Unfortunately for me, and for us, the journey to renewed hope is not always so immediate. Our land between can last for months, even years. Yet new life cannot begin until the old life is put to death.
So where do we find hope in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty?
“The best predictor of the future is the past,” Cloud goes on to say. “Hope comes from real, objective reasons that something will be different.”
That’s why WHO we put our hope in is so critical.
As Christians, our hope rests in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior who keeps his promises. And our hope is embodied in the people who reflect Christ to us, those who are willing to join us on the journey.
In her book, Transforming Community, Ruth Haley Barton writes about Christ’s encounter on the road to Emmaus: “There is something about the willingness to walk together and speak honestly about the fundamental issues of our lives that causes Jesus himself to come near.”
And what more could soothe our dashed hopes than friends to comfort of us and the presence of Christ himself.
Beth Bramstedt is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.