It’s ‘impossible to read without encountering hope’.
I was so thrilled by these words! They were written by one of the very first people to read my novel – a dear, retired pastor friend who I had nervously approached to endorse the book. His words now appear inside The Healing, and on its back cover, and I was thrilled because they highlighted the message I wanted the book to convey.
It’s also impossible to talk about hope at this time of year without thinking of Easter! Spring is in the air, the days are getting longer and warmer, and there are signs of new life all around us. After the long months of winter (particularly a lockdown winter!), these changes encourage us to hope for better things to come. Of course the whole message of Easter is one of hope. Death defeated by Jesus’ glorious resurrection, sin dealt with through His love-compelled sacrifice, and forgiveness, new life, and hope for something far, far better offered to us all.
But what about when we can’t see those signs that give us cause to hope, in nature or in our own lives? What about when we are trapped in winter seasons, where there seems little reason to believe things will ever be better? That first Easter, think of Joseph of Arimathea, who tended Christ’s mutilated body and laid Him in the tomb, the disciples huddled in hiding, beset by fear and confusion, and those faithful women who tiptoed to the tomb to weep over His cold body – did they have hope?
Perhaps if they had really understood all that Jesus had said to them before He was arrested, had understood and believed His words, the promises He had made, then they might have had hope. But maybe their hope only sprang to life when they actually saw their risen Lord? The other side of the Resurrection we celebrate the hope that Easter brings our hearts, but we know the whole story – that He did not stay in the tomb! Yet sometimes we can find ourselves like they were before they saw the resurrected Christ – battling despair and having to choose faith when we can’t see any signs to encourage us to hope.
My own story is reflected in much of the narrative of Philip de Braose, the main character of The Healing. Of course, he is a world-weary mediaeval knight, and I am a fifty-something mother of two, but, like Philip, I have had to take a journey from despair to hope and from brokenness to redemptive healing. So much of what Philip learns, particularly from the wise words of his new friend, the Cistercian brother Hywel, are things that God lovingly and gently taught me, or in some cases reminded me of, during my own journey of healing.
When I was at my lowest point, when every part of my life seemed to have been torn apart by the effects of an unexpected, chronic and debilitating illness, I fought the very real fight against despair. A good friend lovingly reminded me that I had a choice. I knew God. I knew the word of God and His promises. I had to choose to believe what God had said to me, and about me; to trust Him for my present and for my future, and to choose hope over despair. So I began to seek to do this. Daily. Sometimes it was a cold act of will, devoid of any emotion, but gradually it began to take effect. I went back to the word of God and His promises, claiming them for myself. One really important one for me was Jeremiah 31:3:
‘I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt.’
I knew in my spirt that this was a promise for me. God never casts us aside onto ash heaps – rather His desire is always to turn our ashes into beauty and our mourning into joy. I chose to believe His promise, that He would rebuild the ruins of my life into something beautiful for Him. Just making that choice to choose hope became the key to the rest of my healing journey.
In The Healing, Brother Hywel has the same advice for Philip as my friend did for me:
‘Now, Philip, I am urging you to choose hope. You can let the despair take you, or you can choose another way.’ ‘How?’ It was a one-word muffled response, forced out from where he lay, his face still covered.
‘I know it seems an impossibility to you, that there could be something better for you than this life here and now. Or a life better than your life that has passed before. But surely choosing to believe there could be is better than believing that there definitely isn’t…’ Hywel paused for a few moments before asking, ‘Have you faith in God?’
‘I did have once.’
‘Then there is definitely hope for you.’
(The Healing, p29)
The Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:1 that this sort of hope requires faith. We use the word ‘hope’ lightly in day-to-day conversation – ‘I hope it’s sunny tomorrow’ – but that sort of hope is just wishful thinking. The hope God offers is one based on our faith in Him, a sure and certain hope anchored in the Easter story, that He will do all that He has promised. It is a hope we can base our lives on. Choosing hope is choosing to believe, and choosing to believe brings hope! Whatever your situation, I hope you have faith enough to choose to hope today. Easter is surely proof enough that God keeps His promises, however bleak things may look and feel!
Philip chose hope and he began his journey out of despair. The Healing tells his story as he grows in experience of the healing and restorative power of God. Bit by bit, the Lord rebuilds his life and gives him a future better than he ever could have imagined – just like He has mine and can yours.