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Surviving Christmas Card Comparison: Dealing with Unmet Expectations and Learning to Hope in God.

It's that time of year again. The time when our mailboxes fill with Christmas cards from friends and family telling how "little Johnny is now playing baseball and Sally is learning the violin." On the cover is the beautiful family, dressed in khaki and white, with beaming bright smiles to match. Everything looks perfect!  I so love these cards and letters from friends, but I sooooo realize for many women, the temptation to compare is present with every visit from Mr. Postman. C.S. Lewis wisely said, "Comparrision is the thief of joy"  Often, when we compare our lives to our friend's "picture perfect Christmas card" we feel disappointed because our "Christmas letter" doesn't include all we hoped it would include by this stage in the game.  

For that reason, I am posting an exerpt from my book, The List.  This chapter focuses on our unmet expectations and trusting in God with our desires. May God encourage you and bless you this season. 

“You know how when you were a little kid and you believed in fairy tales, that fantasy of what your life would be, white dress, prince charming who would carry you away to a castle on a hill. You would lie in bed at night and close your eyes and you had complete and utter faith.  Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Prince Charming, they were so close you could taste them, but eventually you grow up, one day you open your eyes and the fairy tale disappears…
But the thing is, it’s hard to let go of that fairy tale entirely cause almost everyone has that smallest bit of hope, of faith, that one day they will open their eyes and it will come true.”
Merideth Grey, Grey’s Anatomy  

 

I have an addiction.

 It is quite embarrassing actually. Please promise me you won’t judge. It takes a huge amount of trust for me to open up and confess this secret to you.  Okay, so here I go, “Hello, my name is Marian, and I am absolutely addicted to infomercials.”  There. I said it.  Some of you may be asking, what is an infomercial? OOOOOH…Let me explain. An infomercial is a half-hour-long commercial that hocks everything from body-sculpting workouts to age-reversal eye creams.  Yes, for a reason to be named later, watching those wretchedly annoying things is my new warped fixation.

Like I said, so very embarrassing.

Here’s how I usually get my fix. Flipping through the 900 channels looking for something completely mind-stimulating like The Bachelor or Lost, I happen upon a paid-for-product placement, otherwise known as the infomercial.  Like a fly into a high-speeding windshield, I am sucked into these commercials with such impressive velocity that I often find myself fixated, remote still pointed at the television, and unmoved for several minutes.

In those captivating moments, I’ve watched hordes of promises from cellulite banishers, miraculous wrinkle reducers, plastic food-storage containers,  hair-straightening irons, and, of course, a plethora of exercise machines.  The promises are always so very believable. Viewers like me are persuaded with the real-life testimonials, the amazing before-and-after-photos, fancy digitalized dramatizations, and, most importantly, the celebrity endorsements. Who in their right mind wouldn’t believe these promises that buying the product wouldn’t absolutely change their lives?

One of my new favorites to watch is a commercial for a product line called Meaningful Beauty. This product promises to give you and me flawless skin that is free of all those hideous signs of ageing—blotchiness, under eye circles, and the not-so-funny laugh lines.  In order to validate the claims of the product, the spokeswoman is none other than Cindy Crawford, the girl who put the super in super-model.  Who wouldn’t trust super-Cindy?  In addition, potential buyers get the expertise of a world-renowned French dermatologist. After all, everyone knows the French know everything about creating beautiful skin. At this point, I’m hooked. These guys are simply brilliant because within minutes I am completely convinced that the product that has left Cindy Crawford both beautiful and breathtaking will do the very same for me.  And should a little doubt still remain, there is a 100% money-back guarantee. Of course there is.

We adore a money back guarantee don’t we?  The pledge to doubting consumers that says, “Trust me, everything is going to be just fine.” So, with that added measure of security, we buy…trusting that the claims and promises of the product are true.

Want to know the real secret to a great infomercial? Lean in a little closer because this one is just between us…the secret to an infomercial is what they are selling. No, I’m not referring to the product, silly. The secret is in what the product promises.  They promise us something that we would gladly pay the required $29.99 for the rest of our lives to possess.  So, what is it the advertisers are really selling?  If you pay close attention, you will quickly recognize that these clever marketers aren’t promoting exercise machines or skin cream. Nope, my friend, they are hocking hope.

HOCKING HOPE

            For every woman beginning to see the tell-tale signs of aging and who fears the consequences of her crows’ feet, the new miracle skin-care line is hope for a younger and more desirable looking future. For the young adult who suffers emotionally and socially from acne, the clear-skin product is hope for a blemish and rejection-free future.  For the overweight mom who feels invisible and unattractive, then the latest and greatest home gym equipment is hope for a slimmer and more attractive physique in the future.

Hope sells.

Hope is the reason we scramble to find our credit cards, grab the phone, and dial that 800 number. There’s just something inside of us that hopes, call it an intangible feeling, that all of those promises made on television may actually quiet the cry of our soul’s deeper and truer desires. You know those secret longings often unexpressed but tapped into by marketing geniuses. Temporarily, the product becomes the object of our hope—the thing we believe will improve our circumstances, give us completion, or change our reality…for the better.

Girls, it is all about hope.

Hope is the most powerful tool to lift the human spirit. Marketers know it is the key ingredient required in selling. Hope sells because it is the very emotion that buoys us in the sea of life.  Simply offer people the expectation of a better, brighter and more beautiful future, and…cha ching!

As I write these words, I wrestle with the ability to answer the question: what is hope?  The word has so many different connotations that I know I must clarify the meaning. Hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire.”[1] I define hope as desire with the expectation of fulfillment. The word expectation is so huge…for expecting is the activity of hope. When I hope, I choose to place my expectation in the thing I believe will deliver a good and positive outcome.

A great illustration of this concept was drawn for me while touring New York City.  When taking a cruise around Manhattan, our guide casually mentioned some notable facts about Ellis Island—the first stop for immigrants entering the United States from destinations around the world. Most came to America escaping persecution or political and economic instability. For those worn and weary travelers, coming to America was a journey of hope.

There, on Ellis Island immigrants learned their fate. In The Great Hall each immigrant awaited the government’s decision.  Acceptance or Denial? Upon hearing their fate, they would exit either through the Hall of Tears or the Hall of Hope.  The latter meant a future in America.

I can just imagine an Irish family in the early 1900s fleeing the famine that killed thousands in their homeland, walking that hallway into the bright sunshine of a new life. Rightly named, for many this was a walk of hope. They believed, trusted, expected, and yes, hoped that life would be better for them in America.

A Bad Case of the B.L.D.!

Thinking back to My List, I see now that it was comprised of the things I believed would provide joy, happiness, and security in this life I’m livin’.  You know like meeting a great guy, landing the perfect job, earning a huge income, attaining a beautiful appearance, and acquiring the right stuff ( the newest gadget, the latest handbag—whatever my favorite fashion magazine told me I “must have” in order to have my best life now.)

My hope was in My List.

Education +Travel + Mr. Right+ 2 carat diamond + 2.5 kids+ 4 bedroom home = Happy Marian

Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know then. Whenever hope is misplaced, disappointment soon follows. I like to call this the “Big Let-Down,” or simply, the B.L.D. between us friends.  There is not a girl on planet Earth who has not experienced the B.L.D. at some point in her life.

This may sound silly to some of you, but consider the girl who thought she would d-i-e if she did not make cheerleader in high school. Seriously, I know it may sound trite, but she could not face the possibility that she would not be wearing “the uniform” on game days.  Number one on her List was cheerleader, in all capital letters. She had been dreaming, practicing, and jumping for this day since she could walk.  Put yourself in her Nike’s for a minute.  Cheerleading was her childhood dream. She’d even taken “lessons” from the big girls in her neighborhood. So, on that day in high school, after an extremely well executed toe-touch, tryouts were over, and the waiting began. When they finally called out her name, life was…well, perfect. Complete. That is, until the drudgery of after school practices and competitive girl cattiness set in. Then, to her surprise, cheerleading quickly became a drag and certainly not the ideal life she always imagined.

Her hopes now turned to homecoming, (ahem) becoming the homecoming queen that is. Cheerleading is now NBD (no big deal). It is the crown that really matters. She’s moved on to the next item on her List. But this time, as she sits in History class, anxiously listening as the homecoming court is announced, she experiences another BLD. For when that list is finished hers remains unchecked. 

The disappointment is crushing…for you see, her hope for acceptance and approval was wrapped tightly in that crown.

Meet Claire   

Claire was a beautiful and flourishing thirty-two year old executive living in the heart of New York City.  Her childhood dream as the younger sister of two highly successful older brothers was to one day be the very best in her field and earn the respect of her male co-workers…not to mention her family.  Claire was both driven and determined. She worked extremely hard to climb the corporate ladder. Each promotion gave her a momentary sense of satisfaction, but the pleasure success brought was short lived, and her joy faded as quickly as she eyed the career rungs still ahead of her. Claire would not be satisfied until she reached the top. Ironically, Claire’s big let down occurred when she attained her List.

I remember thinking to myself, “Finally I’ve arrived!” This is the life I’ve hoped for since I was a little girl. Unlike most women, my List never consisted of meeting Prince Charming or any other of those fairytale stories. No, I dreamed of being an independent, successful, and wealthy career woman. My List was filled with power and possessions.

I’ll never forget my big let down. I was finally promoted to Vice President (the only female VP in my company, to be precise.) To celebrate, I treated myself to a luxurious vacation in the south of France. In my mind, this glamorous getaway was the perfect reward—a beautiful villa, fine food, and a fast European convertible.  Only the best…or so I thought.

Sitting in my extremely expensive business-class seat on a trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris, I was aware of the old familiar feeling of dissatisfaction. My seat, that once seemed so superior to economy-class now felt poor and pathetic in comparison to the first-class seat I now longed for just a few feet away.  As I sat there, despairing my misfortune, it occurred to me that my two- bedroom flat in London (provided by my company), which at first felt glamorous and spacious, now seemed like a college dorm room with cramped closets and no room for my ever-growing shoe collection.

When I arrived in France and cast my eyes upon the silver-spooned ladies of St. Tropez, the red Peugot convertible that transported me from the airport to a villa in the vineyards, now felt like a donkey taking me to a broken-down farmhouse. Clothed in diamonds and designers, these women owned mansions and their limo drivers whisked them away from the airport before I could even manage to get my keys from the rental car company.

That week, I realized there would never, ever be enough of anything. Ironically, in the lap of luxury, I discovered it was impossible for my List to bring me happiness. Instead, I felt exhausted, overspent, and disappointed. Exhausted from busting my tail to beat the boys for position after position only to “arrive,” and still not feel satisfied, overspent because there was always some new label that was the “must have” of the moment,  and disappointed  because I realized that no matter how big the house, how fast the car, or how many pairs of Jimmy Choos I was able to acquire…I still was not happy.

Both of these young women have one thing in common: their hope was placed in their List. 

NEW YEARS’ EVE

I’ve never been a big fan of New Years’ Eve. Even back in my wild, B.C. days (Before Christ), it was the one event that always fell flat, disappointing. It reeked BLD.  Yet, for many years, like millions around the globe, I got all dolled up to celebrate. 

You want to know why….hope. Sure, I’ll admit it. I fell for the hype. The lofty expectation that something spectacular would occur…something akin to When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle (the entire New Years Eve industry owes a debt of gratitude to Meg Ryan.). Many years I believed the buzz from friends who said, “Woo-hoo…it’s going to be the best night of the year. We will have sooooooo much fun.”  So, against my better judgment, I’d forgo my true desire to watch a Jane Austen movie marathon, while eating take out and clothed in flannel …and I’d give into the voices crying out to me to make plans for the “best night of the year.”  You may call me Debbie Downer, but if we’re being honest, I’d much rather be at home in my PJs curled up watching Pride and Prejudice (the five hour, BBC, Colin Firth version, of course.)

Needless to say, you will never find me amongst the masses ringing in New Year’s at the most famous location of all—New York City. Every year, as the clock nears midnight, the eyes of the world turn to the dazzling lights and bustling energy of Times Square.  Anticipation runs high. New Year's Eve in the heart of New York City has become more than just a celebration – it's  a “global tradition.” The world holds its breath and cheers as the clock strikes twelve. As the famous ball descends, over a billion viewers throughout the world unite in bidding a collective farewell to the departing year and expressing their joy and hope for the year ahead.

In his memoir, Dispatches From the Edge, journalist Anderson Cooper reflects on covering the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration and the hope felt on this night.

“When midnight arrives, the air explodes into a solid mass, a swirl of colored confetti that seems to hang suspended in space…the air seems to shake, and for a few brief moments I feel part of something larger, not lost in the crowd, but swept up by it, buoyed by the emotion, the energy, the joyful pandemonium.  It overwhelms my defenses, my hard-won cynicism. The past gives way to the present, and I give myself up to it—the possibilities, the potential.” [2]

“Swept up.” I love how Anderson describes this moment. The emotional feeling of hope lifts us out of the present –through the power of imagination—projects us to where the fulfillment of our desires dwell.  Hope is a wish, a dream, a longing. The possibilities fill us with joy. Elation. Jubilation. Euphoria. Hope can be an incredible feeling, but real hope is so much more than a feeling.

So often, after an emotional high like Cooper describes, we awake on New Years’ Day let down from the cloud.  Like our ill-fated resolutions…the emotional high of hope conjured up with the confetti doesn’t last. We count down the past, expecting change in our future.  Then when we wake up on January first, the same person with the same problems, we are often disappointed. Reality sets in. The euphoria, in a swirl of confetti and midnight kisses, was just a fleeting emotional experience—not anything of real substance—just wishful thinking. Most of the time “wishful thinking” is what most people mean when they say, “I hope.” What they mean is, “I wish.”

No certainty.

No security.

No confidence.

The Bible has a different definition of hope—a confident expectation. Confidence that is rooted in faith—that the object of our hope is trustworthy, dependable, and reliable. 

FALSE HOPE

The big let downs in life happen when we place our hope in the wrong thing. Real hope is so much more than a feeling. In order for hope to be true and lasting, it must be placed in something sure and solid. Biblical hope is greater than unsteady emotions it proves an anchor for the soul.

Psalm 33 explains the difference between false and real hope.  The Psalmist begins by praising God for his incredible attributes: God’s power, strength, sovereignty, wisdom, love and faithfulness.  He then reminds us that God is intimately aware and acquainted with our deepest needs and desires…for our hearts were fashioned uniquely by him.  He knows us. He formed us. He spoke the world into existence, and sustains it by his power. In other words, the first fifteen verses lay the foundation for why the Lord is the only one worthy of our hope. (Psalm 33:1-15)  Then, in verse sixteen, our attention turns to the “false hopes” in which we are so quick to put our trust. 

            “The king is not saved by a mighty army;
            A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
            A horse is a false hope for victory;
            nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.”

This Psalm is written to remind God’s people that there is only one source of security…and it is not their military prowess. There is only one source of deliverance…and it is not in human power. Trusting, relying, and depending upon anything created—instead of our Creator—is a false hope. 

One of my favorite things about God is his absolute sureness in himself. Frankly, God does not suffer with self-esteem issues. He knows He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign Lord.  He loves when his children hope in him because they, too, believe he is who he says he is. This is where hope and faith go hand in hand. We hope in the object of our faith. We hope in what we believe will deliver.

Psalm 33 was written because God’s people are so quick to trust in false hopes. Take the nation of Israel for example. The Lord rescued them from Egyptian slavery by defeating Pharaoh and his armies. Then, God supernaturally leads them with a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Girls, can you just imagine a “pillar of fire?” Hello?).  Meanwhile, they behold his miraculous powers (such as providing bread from heaven, water from rocks, parting seas … just your every day God stuff).  Last but not least, he amazed them by repeatedly defeating their enemies.

Yes, for those of you keeping score at home, these are the same people who later turned away from their Redeemer and put their hope for deliverance in something really super-special like a golden cow, or on really special occasions, little wooden idols they carved themselves. And we all know how that worked out for them. NOT-SO-GOOD…Their idolatry always led to bondage and destruction. Yet, each time God mercifully rescued them from the devastation that resulted in trusting in something false.

This Psalm is also written to you and me because we are exactly like Israel, easily swayed into relying on something bogus.  Ok. So not many people these days are bowing down to golden calves, but we are quick to hope in money, material possessions, or a man for our security.

In the original language of the Bible, the word used here for “false hope” also translates as a lie, a sham, or a deception.  Girlfriends, I liken this to the anti-cellulite creams I see advertised. I’m just sayin…(and I beg forgiveness from cosmetic companies globally), but we all know the stuff doesn’t work. It’s a big fat lie (no pun intended.) But seriously, no amount of lotion applied in a circular motion is going to banish years of Key Lime Pie. I’m just sayin’….big, fat, false hope, and big fat thighs.

Quick definition.  A false hope is relying on or trusting in something other than God for life, security, deliverance, power, or protection. They are called “false” because they aren’t reliable, they can and will let us down, and ultimately, they are not worthy of our trust. Essentially this psalm warns that we must be extremely careful that we aren’t swindled, suckered, or conned into placing our hope in a fraud. 

Let’s look at verses 16-17 from a girl’s perspective, shall we? After all, the last time I checked not too many girls I know place their trust in armies, warriors, or horses…but the principle is the same for us. 

The princess is not rescued by her knight in shining armor;
A woman is not delivered by her great beauty;
Money is a false hope for security;
Nor do boys, beauty, or hand bags deliver fulfillment.

             I’m the first to admit I’ve believed the lie of false hopes. What girl hasn’t? We are bombarded with messages that beg us to trust in or depend upon anything other than God for our security. Our favorite chick-flicks feed the notion that in meeting “The One” we will find our Hollywood happy-ending. Our favorite magazines tell us to trust in our beauty and bodies to earn love…or at least some momentary attention.  Or better yet, feminism encourages us to become a self-reliant, independent, I-don’t-need-anyone-tough-girl who hopes only in herself for her future.

            Here’s the problem: there is only one God.  Only one firm foundation. There is only one who is 100% reliable, trustworthy, dependable, and capable of knowing and meeting our every need.  Trusting in false hopes is like stepping onto a surface that you believe is solid only to discover you’re in sinking sand. 

Sinking Sand to Solid Ground

I longed for something solid. Firm ground on which to stand. Yet, my life before Jesus felt like a ship tossed about on a stormy sea. My emotions, vacillating from giddy to grave, lurched up and down with the rise of hopeful expectations and the fall of crushing let downs. Each day was a date with uncertainty. Would today be good or bad? Would I feel happy or sad? Would I be up or down? The answer was dependent upon the object of my hope—my job, my friends, my looks, my crush, my grades, my weight, my popularity, my achievements, my plans for the weekend….I did not know the meaning of real hope before I began a relationship with God through Jesus.

Rewind. I must tell you a little of my history. From childhood through college, I was not a girl who hoped in God. Sure, I knew information about God. Growing up in a small Texas town, church attendance was an expected tradition. It seemed everyone I knew went on Sunday. Christianity was just facts…it wasn’t my faith. I knew about Jesus, I just didn’t know Jesus.  I sang the hymns, heard the stories, and could even quote a few Bible verses…but my hope for happiness, life, security, and completion was in everything the world had to offer.

As far back as I can recall, I fell for the facade of false hopes—the gilded promises seemed so believable. I remember going to middle school with the number one goal of “becoming popular.”  I thought, “If I’m popular then I will feel accepted,”  therefore, I was constantly conforming myself to the crowd and hoping in the approval of my peers to make me feel like I belonged. As a late teen, I believed the wild party-scene would bring me happiness. I began binge drinking in pursuit of the intoxicating high I hoped would provide me escape. As I grew older, I bought the lie that sex outside of marriage was “no big deal,” and would make me feel treasured. I gave myself away in hope that I would find the love I craved.  Entering adulthood, I trusted in the promises of marketing companies that if I purchased their products, my life would be complete, so I charged up the credit cards, hoping the next shopping spree would rid me of my emptiness.

The result? Big Let Downs followed by even Bigger Let Downs…I was a girl overspent, overworked, overused, and over-her-head in disappointment from chasing her List.  In the midst of one especially emotional storm, I cried out to God.  Nothing spectacular or poetic, just a simple prayer, “Help.”

A few weeks later a friend invited me to visit her church.  Sure, I’d done the church thing as a kid, but this time it was different. Chalk it up to desperation or just great timing, but for the first time in my life, as I listened to the message, something clicked.

Not rules.

Not religion.

Just Jesus.

I realized the Gospel is a message of hope: God became a man, entered this dark and desperate world, died in our place, defeated death, in order to give humanity HOPE.  Our Creator knows how desperately we need him to resuce us from our sin and our false hopes.

Before my eyes were opened to the true gospel, I thought his love was conditional upon my performance. My hope for acceptance and righteousness was in my own ability to earn salvation. 

 If I’m a “good girl,” then God will love me.

If I “clean up my act,” then maybe he will forgive me.

If I “change my ways,” then Jesus will accept me.

 You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that I wasn’t very good at being good. So, I did the math and assumed God could/would never love a girl like me.  The problem with my logic was twofold:

  1. Incredibly bad theology.
  2. A classic example of misplaced hope.

The Bible says Christ died because we are 100% hopeless without him. Each one of us is desperate for his grace—whether we see it or not.  Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 3:16 perfectly explains our situation.

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him (Jesus) anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. (John 3:16-18 The Message)

Finally “getting it,” the gospel message proved a beacon of light pointing me to solid ground. Like a sailor lost at sea, I welcomed this sight. Due to my track record of rebellion and sin, I now understood that I didn’t have a shred of hope of pleasing a Holy God on my own. My only hope for acceptance was the free gift of salvation offered through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Placing my faith in Jesus, my life was transformed from instability to confidence because of my relationship with him.  This gospel message proved so powerful that the entire foundation of my existence changed by believing it.  One of my favorite hymns says it best:

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand!”

At last…Solid Ground! Friends, this is where my journey of hoping in God began. I say journey, because that is what the Christian life really is—a walk of faith.  I’d love to end this chapter here and tell you, “My life has been absolutely perfect.  Bliss. I’ve never wavered in my faith and I’ve consistently hoped in Jesus for the rest of my days.” Girls…that would be a bigger lie than cellulite cream. The honest truth is this: I have more in common with the Israelites than I ever imagined. Every single day (pun definitely intended) I’m learning what it means to hope in God.

Becoming a Woman Who Hopes in God!

            Sure, I fell head over heels in love with Jesus. Not only was he my Solid Rock but also my Redeemer, Savior, Healer, Comforter and Friend. The more I followed him, the more I loved him. He proved his faithfulness in my life time and time again. This much is true, but the temptation to trust in false hopes is still a battle for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ.

Believing God is more than just a one-time decision to walk an aisle, pray a prayer, get sprinkled, confirmed, or baptized. Faith is a daily, moment to moment activity of hoping in God.  It took me a while to get this memo.   When I would sing that old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” I thought early on that this truth only applied to my eternal destination. You know… my hope for heaven.  What I didn’t realize is that God is our only hope for EVERYTHING in this life and in the next!

The air we breathe.

The food we eat.

The health we enjoy.

The healing we desire.

The love we crave.

The security we need.

Yet, it took a “full-blown-melt-down” for me to realize that I, like Israel, was a redeemed girl clinging to a false hope.  Sure, I loved Jesus and trusted him with my life, but there was still this one thing I was holding onto. So…what was this false hope?  Drum roll please…marriage. 

Gulp.  Confession complete. 

During a season in which all of my closest friends met their One, it seemed that God somehow forgot me. This was a painful (and expensive) season.  I went into a bit of despair…I struggled believing that my future was going to be good. I looked up and my circle of friends had doubled…with the addition of husbands. The more the merrier did not apply here.  Of course my girlfriends included me, but an awkward distance crept in, when I began to feel like only half of a whole.  Who was going to dinner? The Smiths,  the Wallaces, the Jones’, oh and Marian.

Their joy created a commonality that left me on the outside of their marriage vortex.  Unintentional, though palpably real. (The awkward moment when the check comes, the endless chatter about house-hunting, the beginning of discussions about babies…all of this made my search for a new apartment, a roommate, and fixing my own flat tire become an unbearable chasm between us.) I was alone. Completely, surprisingly, and unintentionally alone. This was so not my plan. Now, my life felt hopeless. Because the one, THE ONE, had not come. Can we just say, “BIG LET DOWN!”

I was undone, falling apart…serious crazy place. During a time of prayer (translation: snotty sob fest with Bible close by where Jesus is the recipient of my pathetic pleas), the Lord led me to Psalm 33.  Here, he showed me the root of my despair—my misplaced hope.  I was still just a girl looking for my Prince Charming to come along and “rescue” me.  In that season, I shifted my hope from the person of Jesus to the person who would propose marriage …trading the One and Only for “the One.”

Here’s the thing…Jesus loves you and me too much to just sit back and let us hope in something that won’t deliver. Any married girl out there can tell you, husbands don’t provide happiness.  This may come as a shock, but marriage isn’t the solution to all of life’s woes for a single girl. Here me out, I’m not saying marriage isn’t a wonderful blessing—it is.  I’m just confessing that my problem was that I was placing my expectation for my future in someone other than Jesus, and as a result the massive boulders of despair and disappointment rolled in, crushing me under their weight.

Therefore, at the top of God’s List is his desire that we become women who believe and hope in him, now.  In doing so, we become a beacon of light to others who are desperate without him. 

When God showed me the truth in Psalm 33, not only did I recognize my false hope, but I also discovered the profile of a woman who hopes in God.

“The eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, 
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love
to deliver them from death 
and keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33: 18)

There are three aspects of this verse that describe a woman who hopes in God. First, she believes “the eyes of the Lord” are upon her.  Second, she “hopes in his unfailing love.” Finally, she knows “he will deliver…”

The Eyes of the Lord

            One of the tricky things about teaching God’s word is the fact that I’m always tested on the subject before I can teach it to others. Today is a test of hope. Every time I turn on the news, or see a headline I hear the same thing: economy crashing, gas prices soaring, food shortage, and on and on ring the alarms of pending doom. It is quite easy to lose hope in a world where terrorism reins, morals decline, and humanity suffers. 

            I am the first to admit that we, as Americans, live incredibly comfortable lives compared to the rest of the world.  Tune into the news, and you are immersed in stories of widespread hunger, poverty related diseases, and senseless deaths. In my sterilized niche of the world, I’ve never had to think about where my next meal will come from—nor does the idea seem appealing. I know we are materially blessed, and I know we are not entitled to these blessings. I am acutely aware that at anytime, these warnings could become a reality.

            Each time I hear these reports I’m faced with a decision. Freak out or Believe God. Seriously, fear is the air we breathe these days. As a single girl, with a single income, the temptation to fear the future is always present. The questions roll in:

What will happen if the economy does take a nose dive?

What will happen if there is a food famine in our country?

How will I survive if people are more concerned with buying bread than buying books?
What will I do if I never marry and it’s just me … and the cat I don’t even own yet?

The questions are real. The questions cause me to pause. The questions cause me to ask myself a serious question: Do I really believe “the eyes of the Lord” are on me? Do I really believe he is faithfully watching over me to provide, to protect, and to preserve? Do I really believe he is all-knowing and perceives my needs from afar?  Do I really believe in the God David describes in Psalm 23?

The LORD is my shepherd;
    there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
    He leads me beside quiet waters.
He renews my life;
    He leads me along the right paths
    for His name's sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
    I fear [no] danger,
    for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff —they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
    You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
    and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
    as long as I live.  (Psalm 23 HCSB)

            Unlike King David, who wrote of the Lord lovingly leading his own, many people perceive God as distant, cold, removed. Not involved in the day-to-day affairs of this world. No wonder they feel hopeless when tragedy strikes or when life doesn’t make sense—their God is absent. Not my God. Not the God of the Bible. He is the “with us, never-leave-or-forsake-us, move-the-mountains, loving Shepherd who watches over his flock” kind of God.

            Today, by God’s grace, I can face those scary questions with confidence. I’ve experienced his provision, his power, and his protection. I have peace and joy because my expectation for the future is in the Lord, for I know his eye is upon me. 

Hope in His Unfailing Love

Unbelief is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in a woman’s heart. doubts and fears lead some women to control and others to despair but both types of women are plagued by unbelief. So many women who are redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ struggle with fear because they don’t truly believe God loves them.  At the core of their being they doubt God’s goodness—and wonder if his intentions for them are good.

I so understand!! At one point in my Christian walk, I, too, struggled with the same doubts.  Though I experienced salvation and knew my sins were forgiven—still, I wrestled with believing that God loved me.  Not global-God-love, but that he loved me—just me.  So, this kind of doubt made it difficult to hope in God, because frankly, I didn’t trust that God really gave a flip about me. Our enemy loves to play this card…he absolutely hates it when a child of God is confident in his love for her. 

Picture a three-year old little girl standing at the edge of a swimming pool. Her favorite “floaties” tossed aside. It’s just her, the big pool, and Daddy in the water standing a frightening two feet away. Her fear is great...especially without the security of her floaties.  She stands at the edge, eyeing the water just inches below, when her Daddy says, “Come on sweetheart. Jump to me. I’ll catch you.” She hesitates. And then, with all the might her little body can muster, she propels herself into her father’s arms—her feet skimming the water along the way.

Do you know what happened in that split second she hesitated? She asked herself these question: Does my Daddy love me? Will my Daddy catch me?  Can I trust him? Her answer wasn’t said in words, but in a leap—the leap from the safety of the ledge to the security of her Daddy’s arms.  She hoped he would catch her because she believed he loved her.  As one of my favorite scriptures says, “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear.”  (1 John 4:18 HCSB) When we understand how perfect God’s love for us is, then our fears and our doubts are banished in light of the truth.

Girls, the miracle of our hope in Jesus is that we become children of God.  Now, we are not only the recipients of his grace, but also his Fatherly love, care, and provision. Check out these amazing truths and ask God to help you believe these promises—not just with your head, but with your heart.

I AM A CHILD OF GOD!

"Yet to all who received him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God" John 1:12-13.

MY HEAVENLY FATHER LOVES ME!

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:1 NASB

I AM BLESSED AND FAVORED IN CHRIST!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ;  for He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:3-6

I HAVE A GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN CHRIST!

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints…Ephesians 1:18

GOD’S POWER WORKS FOR ME, HIS CHILD!
                I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know … His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavenly realms.  Ephesians 1:18-20 His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavenly realms.  Ephesians 1:18-20

 

NOTHNG CAN SEPARATE ME FROM GOD’S LOVE!

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! Romans 8:38-39

The woman who hopes in God believes her identity as a child of God: loved, chosen, called, empowered, equipped, protected, sealed, shielded, and blessed. The Father’s love for you is “unfailing”…don’t allow unbelief to keep you from the confident assurance that is yours as a Daughter of the King!

To Deliver …

                  I just finished lunch with one of my favorite college coeds.  Her testimony is very similar to my own. She had a wild past, but God has redeemed and restored her life. Over our carb-packed lunch of pizza and French fries, we discussed the all important topics of boys and dating.

My friend has a new crush… a Big Crush! She is smitten, if you know what I mean.  So, we are chatting along and she’s detailing to me their “friendship,” and how she hopes to see this young man again soon (he lives three states away)…and really hopes that “he’s the one.” 

So, as I’m apt to do in a moment like this, I ask what is to me, the most important question: Tell me about his relationship with Jesus.

Pause.

Awkward Silence.

Muttering and mumbling.

Cough.

“I’m sorry,” I ask, now a little confused. “What was that you just said? He’s a ‘really good guy, but not necessarily a ‘follower of Jesus?’”

            Looking up sheepishly from her pizza, the full-story unfolds.

My friend looked around her university and didn’t see any Godly men pursuing Jesus who were also pursuing her. So, she grew tired of waiting on the Lord to provide Mr. Right and decided to take matters into her own hands and date Mr. Right Now.  She convinced herself that it was just a temporary fling—a summer crush. 

The problem with this justification is that our hearts don’t always get the “don’t fall for this guy memo.”   When we spend time with someone, it is very easy to fall for them. And now, my sweet friend, who loves Jesus, has fallen for a guy who doesn’t share her values or her God.

How did this happen? She explained that she began doubting whether or not God really cared about the desires of her heart. She reasoned she might as well date this guy, who was clearly interested in her because “God may not deliver.”

Most women reading this understand her struggle. You long for something, and the waiting becomes oh-so-difficult. To hope in God is choosing to believe he will deliver.  A woman who hopes in God trusts him to provide for her needs. She commits the desires of her heart to him confident that his plan and his timing are best.

What are you waiting on God to deliver? Are you setting your hope on Jesus or trusting in something or someone else to meet your needs? Or perhaps, like my friend, you’ve decided to take matters into your own hands. Friends, hope in God. There are amazing blessings in store for those of us who do.  He desires good for you.  Don’t settle. Hear the Lord speak this promise to you.

Why do you say …
       "My way is hidden from the LORD;
       my cause is disregarded by my God"?

Do you not know?
       Have you not heard?
       The LORD is the everlasting God,
       the Creator of the ends of the earth.
       He will not grow tired or weary,
       and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
       and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
       and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
       will renew their strength.
       They will soar on wings like eagles;
       they will run and not grow weary,
       they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31

Trust me when I tell you that I KNOW how tempting it is to take matters in your own hands when waiting on a desire of your heart to be fulfilled.  Friend if there is one thing I know for sure from my season of singleness it is this: God knows our hearts’ desires far better than we do.  The last thing we want is to settle for anything that is not his best for us. When we choose to hope in God, we trust that he will deliver the very best…in his way and in his timing.

I SEE A GENERATION…

Recently, I spoke these truths to a group of college and young single women –girls who daily face the temptation to hope in a guy, in their grades, or in getting the perfect job for their future security.   These girls are smack dab in the middle of the season of life that defines for most women where their hope will be placed.  I’ve heard it said many times that between the age 18-28 the most important decisions in life are made.  The audience seated before me was in the midst of that pivitol season…a time when they will decide whether they will or will not hope in God.

After explaining the truth about false hopes and presenting Jesus as the only one worthy of our hope, I found myself choked up with tears.  I’m not much of a crier—so this emotion was genuine. Welling up inside of me was an overwhelming thankfulness for the past and a longing for the future.

Thankfulness…. I’m infinitely grateful that the Lord delivered me from my false hopes—the self-made, material longings and plans that I had trusted in that could never provide fulfillment. I wept before these women because I was overwhelmed by God’s goodness.  My words fail to explain to you how incredibly grateful I am that God did not give me my plan.  While I still have desires, I now see my season of singleness as an amazing blessing. As a single girl, I’ve watched the Lord provide, protect, lead, direct, defend, and strengthen me in ways I never would have known had I been married.

I know his eye is upon me.

I know his love is unfailing.

I know he delivers.

Longing…for a generation of women who love and profess faith in Jesus, to actually hope in Jesus. As I looked out over the hundreds of young women seated before me, I felt the urgency of the hour. Will we become women who hope in the Lord? Or…will we continue to follow the path of the world, trusting our lives to empty and disappointing false hopes? 

God is calling us out. God is seeking a generation of women who hope in him. God is raising up his daughters to stand as lights in this dark world—women who tell the hopeless where real hope is found.  Are you that woman?  Psalm 33 concludes with the anthem of a woman who chooses to hope in God.  Friends, I challenge you to say these words aloud with me. Make this your anthem and confession as you choose during your single season to become a woman who hopes in God.

We wait in hope for the LORD;
       he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
       for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
       even as we put our hope in you.
 (Psalm 33:18-22 NIV)



[1] Concise Oxford Dictionary, Tenth Edition,  Oxford University Press

[2] Anderson Cooper, Dispatches From the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival. Harper Collins, 2006

 

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