A few weeks ago my husband, Daniel, and I went to our friends’ house to introduce ourselves to the latest addition to their family—an adorable eight-pound bundle, newly arrived from the hospital and decked out in a duck-themed onesie.
We asked his parents if there was any special meaning to his name, and we found out that his first name means “Big Hope” in Korean. As I held him, I looked in his eyes—wide and unblinking, taking in everything with solemn contemplation. Big Hope. So much hope wrapped in something so small.
Not long after our visit, I was talking to my Tuesday prayer buddy. We’ve been praying over one thing consistently ever since we started meeting. Week after week, year after year. “I’ve been wondering,” she said. “What’s the point of hoping?” The question wasn’t bitter, nor did it stem from a lack of belief. She was asking genuinely, almost pragmatically. “Is there any real benefit to hoping?”
The woman from Shunem described in 2 Kings 4 had the same question. She and her husband had shown hospitality to the prophet Elisha whenever he was in town, and he wanted to do something for her in return for her kindness. She insisted that she didn’t need anything—she had a pretty good life already. But Elisha heard that she had no children, and he knew immediately the perfect gift for her:
Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”
“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”
—2 Kings 4:15-16
Sure enough, though, she had a son, just as Elisha had promised. The miracle came true. Her hopes were fulfilled. But that’s not the end of the story.
When the boy was older, he was working out in the field with his father, and he suddenly became ill and died. The woman from Shunem went straight to Elisha, and she had a few words for him.
She said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”
—2 Kings 4:28
Like my friend, this woman couldn’t see any advantage to hoping. If you don’t hope for something and God delivers, it’s a pleasant surprise, right? And if that longed-for thing doesn’t happen, well, then, maybe it prevents a little piece of your heart from breaking.
Our friends were taken aback to discover that in the United States, Hope is exclusively a girl’s name. I guess I’d never given that much consideration, but come to think of it, it does seem a little strange. What kind of commentary does that offer our view of hope? Does the fact that we don’t name our boys Big Hope reflect that we consider it lightweight? Dainty, even?
The poet Emily Dickinson didn’t do much for hope’s macho image when she described it as “the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul.” Our lexicon betrays our own fluffy interpretation: “I hope it won’t rain.” “I hope he’ll call me.” “I hope that semi coming toward me gets back on his side of the road.” We treat hope like so much wishful thinking, a feather that falls haphazardly wherever it chooses.
After doing a little digging about hope, I was intrigued to discover that in church history, the image used to depict it was pretty much the opposite of a feather: an anchor (Hebrews 6:19). Up until around the fifth century AD, it was one of the main symbols for Christianity, more prevalent than a cross. Believers in the first century even had the image of an anchor etched into their tombs as a symbol of the eternal hope they clung to.
I have to wonder if hope isn’t so much about the thing we’re hoping for itself but a tether to keep us close to the Granter of Hopes. Without hope, we drift aimlessly in the big ocean of doubt and fear and uncertainty. The woman from Shunem did get her son back—he was miraculously brought back to life. But whether or not God gives us the specific thing we long for, I believe hope is worth it. Hope pulls us back in, close to the heart of the one who anchors our souls.
I pray that hope as an anchor for you, my Tuesday friend. And on the days you can’t hang on yourself, I will hold on to hope on your behalf.
“Hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky….Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.”
—Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Is there something you are hoping for? If you are having trouble hanging on to hope right now, I would be honored to pray for you.
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.