Hope for the future often exists as the sole reason for most of us to go on living. Hope inspires us, attracts us, and gives us a reason to get up every morning. Without hope for the future, why get out of bed? Yet, as one who spent and will continue to spend his entire life hoping for the best for the future, I wish to offer a word of caution to the wise.
We who live with perpetual hope for the future frequently encounter three persistent obstacles.
Persistent obstacle No. 1
In the Book of Acts we have this story: “As we (Paul and Silas) were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.” (Acts 16: 16 – 19, English Standard Version)
The owners of this visionary slave girl lived hoping for great future gain, raking in money by the bushel loads. Does hauling in tons of money seem problematic to any one? Most of us might like suffering a problem like that one, right?
Yet the hope of our slaveholders for a future jam-packed with gold created an obstacle for them – they lived incapable of living fully in the now, learning ways to take time for savoring each moment that God gave them. So caught up with hopes for enormous future wealth, they totally missed out on multiple joys surrounding them as God’s gift.
Worse yet, the slaveholder’s hope for the future created persistent obstacle No. 2 – a problem we often cause ourselves.
Persistent obstacle No. 2
Persistent obstacle No. 2 erupts because we want what we want when we want it, causing us to unknowingly imprison one of the rarest gems in the universe, which is our very own innocent and pristine future, when and where we can live life as freely and fully as we like. No diamond carries greater wealth than the freedom to live our lives as we choose; and, because of the slaveholders’ greed and anger, everyone’s life in this narrative careened this way and that, eventually falling into a judge’s lap. The slaveholders corrupted everyone’s future and freedom.
Do we not act similarly sometimes, selfishly rearranging our open and free future and the future of others by premeditatively coercing one or more people into places we choose? The future, completely innocent and unblemished, belongs to each of us wholly unaffected by anyone or anything, until self-interested hopes for the future begin crafting outcomes constraining the future into less than desirable destinations. In this way, we taint what lies ahead with our want.
Persistent obstacle No. 3
A third obstacle that prevents us from fully enjoying what we hoped to achieve surfaces when we finally succeed achieving our goal. Call it “extra baggage”. Many of us know that even after we achieve our goal, additional relationships (some desirable and some not) and unforeseen complications invariably come along for the ride.
For example, Adam and Eve hoped to acquire the knowledge of good and evil, and so they ate of the Tree of Good and Evil. (Genesis 3) They achieved their goal, didn’t they? Unfortunately along with achieving their goal came a few additional consequences, like expulsion from the Garden of Eden for being disobedient and worse yet, the murder of one brother by the other – Cain and Abel. (Genesis 4) If you never heard this adage before, hear it now: “Nothing achieved comes without consequences.”
God offered Abraham and Sarah a nation with descendents as numerous as the stars in heaven. (Genesis 12) Sounds like quite a deal! Through centuries spent achieving that goal, along came devious twists, alarming turns, deadly conspiracies, and cruel deaths that Abraham and Sarah never foresaw. All those consequences arose as the result of achieving hopes.
Wisdom dictates that when embracing hope, be willing to take on all the consequence. Like the revised adage says, “Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.”
Perhaps now you understand that living with hope can sometimes blind us to joy and bring us more problems than we wanted.
A wise solution involves hoping for a way to enjoy what our future brings right now, like the sights, sounds, and all we can experience of life in this moment. And then, move into the next future moment, hoping that the future pulls us into the now, placing us in the same time zone where God lives.
Living with hope inspires and gives us out reason for living one day to the next, and living with hope for the future can blind us to inspirations bubbling up in the present along with baggage and consequences needing our attention.
Be careful with how you handle your future.
Tom Towns is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Cortez.