Romans 5:3-5 Hope and Hope Deferred

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”- Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV)

I’m doing a study in which this is today’s verse, along with the questions,

“What have you hoped in that has disappointed you?”

“How is your hope in Christ different?”

I would have to say that disappointment is part of the human condition.  I think the first thing we learn as children is that we are not the center of the universe, and that as the great philosopher Mick Jagger said, “you can’t always get what you want.”  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because what we want is not always necessarily what we need.  With this in mind, I will say I am struggling with a number of long-term disappointments, and I need clear discernment in dealing with them.

I’m downright spiritually, physically and emotionally depleted from years of being in a less than optimal marriage.  That’s my fault.  As much as there are times I would like to take the world’s wisdom and just leave my high maintenance husband along with all of his baggage and issues, it’s not that simple.  It amazes me that most people, when a friend’s spouse has a physical illness such as cancer or is physically handicapped in some way, are quite supportive of that friend in his/her caring for his/her spouse.  But if that friend’s spouse is dealing with mental illness or addiction, (or a combination of both) the first thing people say is, “Leave that SOB.”  So the first thing that someone who is married to a person with mental illness/alcoholism/addiction gets hit with by well meaning friends, is “get the hell out.”  Sometimes the spouse who could use some support and encouragement gets thrown a few vapid books on “co-dependency.”

Does the marriage vow change simply because one of the two people become ill or one of the two people engages in a self-destructive habit?

The world’s wisdom tells us that if we are disappointed we should just move on to something (or someone) else, and that we have the “right” to please ourselves first.  But God’s wisdom is different.  Jesus “emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave,” Philippians 2:1-8 and looked toward the needs of others before Himself.

The question I have in this point in my life is whether God is giving me what I need (endurance, character building, patience) rather than what I want, (a healthy relationship with a mentally and emotionally stable spouse) and if this is so, why?  Is the hope that I have for my husband’s recovery and healing simply deferred, or is the challenge deeper than that?

The apostle Paul had much to say about living with disappointment.  He got thrown in jail.  He was kept from his friends, and had times of having plenty and times of having nothing- but he could still say this:

“Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 (NRSV)

The more that I read from the apostle Paul, the more that I see that our fulfillment and our satisfaction must be in Christ- not in relationships or stuff or money or prestige or anything else that is external.  Whether our external circumstances are favorable or leave a lot to be desired, God in Christ is constant- and He always working for His children’s best interests whether we see it or not.

I don’t have the answers, other than that I know that when I’m walking through the valley of the shadow Jesus is walking with me, and that when I am weeping He weeps with me.  There are times when that knowledge is the only consolation and strength I have.

I’m not nearly as grateful as I would like to be.  I am challenged to take hold of the joy that is rightfully mine in Christ- to surrender my grudges, my disappointments and my failures and hold on to the Hope that is Christ.

It’s not a destination but an ongoing journey.

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