What do you do when your relationship is lifeless, communication is strained, interaction is difficult? Your partner feels like an estranged friend, someone you once shared life with, but now there is nothing left to share. There has been too many disappointments, too much pain. Hearts have become hardened and the passion is long gone. In fact, the affections are directed elsewhere. The marriage is on the rocks. All the signs are there: there is no coming back from this; it is THE END. You are beyond hope.
What is hope? And why bother?
Hope, simply put, is the anticipation of good. Hope, or vision, or a dream, is something desirable that you believe to be possible for you – those “plans to prosper… a good future” (Jeremiah 29:11). It is best captured by the imagination, illustrated in a picture, or envisioned in a story. It is an end-state that draws your affections and invites you to dream with. We have seen the power of phrases such as “offspring as many as the stars above you and sand below you” and “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Genesis 15:1; Exodus 33:3). Hope is powerful.
Hope is the attitude that looks up and dares to believe that this journey I am on is leading to something beautiful, something desirable, something worthwhile. That the best is yet to come!
Hope is like the architects drawing of the beautiful house in which you will have your kids and the two of you can grow old together, sitting on the veranda as the sun sets peacefully. Although the house is not built yet, these lines on the paper is the catalyst of desire which will make you build the house. But more, this picture (hope) is also the reason and clear direction for every inch of effort that will go into making that drawing into your dream home. (Refer to Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, hope is very powerful.
Why is hope powerful?
Hope makes hard times bearable, because as you hold onto the belief in a good future you understand these troubles are temporal, and the hope you long for gives meaning to the things you suffer on the way there. A lack of confidence of a good future (or hope) is the cause for companies to close their doors, marathon athletes exit the race and couples end up in divorce court. We give up when we loose hope. Conversely, hope gives athletes strength to endure pain in order to gain the reward, what makes the soldier survive his wounds to see his wife again, and what causes the mother with cancer to keep on fighting and see her children grow up. Hope, the confident expectation of a beautiful future together, is the reason to endure hard times and helps to see meaning in the daily grind. (See Romans 8:28).
Secondly this hope (a clear vision of a good future) helps us to navigate life’s challenges because it sets priorities in our activities and the direction of our efforts – in both good times and in bad. We know that the Christian hope of eternal life builds resistance to temptation, is the standard for our relational growth and gives strength to push through endure hard times. Similarly the marital hope of our beautiful and meaningful life together keeps us faithful, helps us grow closer and helps us overcome obstacles together.
Why can I have hope?
If everything in your relationship point to failure and hopelessness, why could you trust that all will be well soon? How could you be persuaded of a joyful, meaningful future together? Indeed a fair question. If one has tried everything to keep the relationship alive and nothing seemed to work, you have come to the end of yourself, allowing a sense of hopelessness to set in.
But for the Christian, the end of oneself is not the end of a matter. With God there is always hope: our success or failure does not depend on our efforts alone, but we “hope in God” (or “trust in God”) as the Psalmists frequently sing (eg Psalm 39:7; 62:5; see Ephesians 2:13-14). When nothing seems to help we are confident of a good outcome because of God’s character, his love for us and his ability. To say “I hope in God” means to trust that God is indeed merciful, trustworthy and powerful enough to help me, and that he is certain to hear my pleas and help me from this seemingly hopeless situation. We further hope in God because of the hope intrinsic in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, showing that no situation is every truly hopeless to God who brings even the dead to lifer. No situation is ever too late, too hopeless, because “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27)
How does hope work in practice?
Hope works best in pictures and stories – something you can look at or recall in your imagination. Something that best illustrates the good future you desire.
So find or draw a picture like the stars above Abraham and the sand beneath his feet which reminded him daily of God’s promise that “so will your offspring be.” What he saw reassured him that his will have offspring – and many. These visual depictions of God’s promise motivated him to be intimate with his wife, reminded him daily that God was at work in his daily actions, and comforted them both every month Sarah discovered she was not pregnant. It also intended to prevent them from giving up altogether from the hope of a child together by finding other women to provide offspring. You need a picture like this – it can even be a picture of your wedding day or honeymoon when you were happy together.
Stories are also powerful sources of hope – the Bible is filled with those for a reason! If you marriage is in a tough spot, then consider finding the story of a couple who were about to give up and God turned it all around beautifully. Stories are very potent because you can identify with their suffering, and wish to share in their success. Look for these people, talk or write to them. Read their blogs and buy their books. Go to their seminars and workshops where you can listen to their stories, cry about their pain, celebrate their restoration and gain hope! Ask them to encourage you and pray for you. Because what God has done for the he will do for you. These stories are filled with hope because these people live the dreams you have – these people embody the hope you need.
These images and stories stir our imagination, and our God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). So, like Abraham was invited to picture his offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky and the dessert sand between his sandals – so image your marriage in it’s prime. Imagine the greatest marital bliss, joy filled home, carefree moments of intimate pleasure, sweet companionship and potent partnership. Imagine what God can make of your marriage – with all his wisdom and all his might – what could God do in and through the two of you. What type of marital relationship between you and your spouse would bring God glory, would showcase his loving goodness to the world? Picture that!
I encourage you to “write out the vision and make it clear” as God told Habakkuk (2:2). Talk to your spouse about it, pray about it. Tell your friends what you dream about. The challenge is to allow the hope (confidence of your good future) to overpower your anxieties (fearful expectation of failure and pain). Deliberately dwell on the good of your spouse and what you have in your marriage, while you also pray about what makes you anxious or sad, “casting your cares on the Lord, for he cares for you” (Philippians 4:6-8; 1 Peter 5:7).
If you really cannot see a future because you are so aware of the challenges and pain, do what Elisha did when his servant was only aware of the Syrian army surrounding them. “’Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ’Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:14-17). Then the servant was not intimidated by the challenge they faced, because he was aware of The Lord of Heavens Armies who was right there with them.
You are never walk alone – God is right here with you in your marital crisis. And he is in the business of saving!
Let this be a reminder today that although your relational journey might be laden with disappointments, miscommunication and frustration that left you both hurt and hopeless, with God there is always hope. Nothing is too hard for him (Jeremiah 32:17)! He is close to all who call on him, and look – picture it – he makes all things new! (Revelation 21:5)
So what is the most ideal picture of your marriage? What could your story be? What is your hope?