As we reflect on the past year, there’s not much to give us hope or optimism for the future. The pandemic still rages, affecting so many aspects of our daily lives. Global strife threatens our national security. Economic pressures weigh heavily on families. Political conflict turns friends and neighbors into ideological enemies.
Taken as a whole, these feel like dark, bleak times. At a personal level, the fears associated with each of these threats and the unknown future they portend feel overwhelming.
Do you remember how hopeful everyone was for the start of 2021? As the ball dropped, we rang in the new year, joyously celebrating what seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel – medical breakthroughs, the end of a tumultuous election season, the reopening of schools and businesses, and life slowly trudging toward that light and an eventual return to normal.
As the months of 2021 went by and those assumed saviors failed to deliver on their promises of peace and stability, we, as a people, have fallen into despair. We are tired of feeling afraid and tired of arguing with each other. Constantly adjusting to our unfilled expectations has made us frustrated, sad and angry. We have expended all our mental and physical energy, and we are empty. We have hit the wall.
If you’re a runner or any kind of endurance athlete, then you know what "hitting the wall" means. It’s the point at which your body, in complete cahoots with your brain, tells you, We need to stop. This is too hard. Let’s just sit down and never get back up again.
Physically, "hitting the wall" often feels like heavy legs, labored breathing and extreme exhaustion. Mentally, it’s an intense desire to just lie down on the pavement and die. Your pace slows to a crawl, you can’t think straight, and you feel terrible. Everything inside you is begging you to quit this hard thing you are doing.
There are many reasons runners might hit the wall, but as we have all learned this year, you can also hit the wall while simply sitting on your couch. And many of us, as we stand here at the start of a new year, find ourselves not just hitting the wall, but stuck to it like a bug on a windshield.
The way I see it, faith is the belief that despite what the voice in your head is telling you, you can – and will – break through that wall.
These walls we find ourselves stuck against are not the type of physical exhaustion we hit while attempting to run a marathon; they are emotional, mental and spiritual walls that are a shared piece of our human experience. And because these intangible walls live in our mind, heart and soul, they can be far harder to break through than physical ones.
For a little while you can convince yourself to do anything, to endure anything. But eventually, it’s not the physical pain that forces us to stop; it’s the voice in our head that begs us to quit, walk away, or crawl under our blankets and never come out again. That voice convinces us to stop trying, to stop caring, or to give up by whispering one big lie into our ears: Life will always feel like this.
That voice in our head tells us that life will always feel this hard, that our days will always be this dark, that this pain will never go away, or that the people in our lives who we counted on to save us will always disappoint us. Our natural human tendency is to accept that lie because in the moment, everything we think and feel tells us it’s true. Discouraged, we reach within ourselves for strength to endure, and when we come up empty, we cry out, "I can’t do this anymore!"
The world tells us that we have the right to then get angry or go numb. We lash out, reject those who try to help us, and rail against the circumstances that brought us to this point. Then we drink or smoke or sleep or eat – whatever it takes to not feel this way anymore. We hit the wall and stick there.
God offers us another option, one that is powerful and effective because it does not depend on our own inner fortitude as the sole source of our energy and strength. The Bible recounts story after story of tired and struggling people hitting wall after wall, but eventually breaking through because of the energy and strength offered through community and a connection to the ultimate source of life and love, God himself.
We may not always see it, we may not always feel it, but nevertheless, it is always there: "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1, NLT).
The way I see it, faith is the belief that despite what the voice in your head is telling you, you can – and will – break through that wall. But it’s a willingness to surrender your own attempts to do it alone and instead say to God, "I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I trust you when you say you will give me the strength I need for today. I have an expectant hope that you will eventually help me break through this wall and that there are better days on the other side."
It may not be easy. In fact, it probably won’t be. This is not an effortless kind of hope we can throw on without a second thought. It’s a gutsy, gritty kind of hope that we have to choose to pick up each morning and wrap ourselves in tightly as we face what can feel like a scary and threatening world.
When the rest of the world is telling us to be afraid, trust no one, fear for the future, or give up, God’s hope speaks the truth that a force much greater than current events or our own abilities is in control. His transcendent hope suggests that perhaps we have been placing our shallow hope in people and things that, in their failure to save us, have been exposed for the false idols they are. But God offers us the truth: that we can rest in his divine power to sustain us in these challenging times. Isn’t that what we want most? A few moments of deep, peaceful rest?
God never promised us an easy life where he will clear away the conflict or challenges we face individually or globally. In fact, he promises us quite the opposite. He knows how hard life is.
Jesus walked these roads, he experienced these struggles, and he knows what deep, terrible pain feels like. He knows all about despair and the walls blocking our path. But he asks us to have faith. Faith that he will comfort us in our pain and our loneliness. Faith that he will bring people to us who will hug us and dry our tears and walk alongside us. Faith that he will give us the strength we need to keep on going. Faith that every dawn is a new day bringing us one step closer to breaking through.
This is the only true source of lasting hope – a God who promises to be with us in both the best and worst of times.
We can move forward confidently into 2022, a year that is full of unknowns, not because we trust ourselves, or anyone or anything else, but because we trust God. When we do that, the fog lifts, the wall crumbles and the world begins to look a bit brighter. This is our hope for the new year.