A diagnosis of cancer can knock anyone for a loop. As I’ve sat at hospital bedsides or in homes with parishioners who’ve received that news, or as I’ve talked with family members who received that diagnosis, sometimes there’s shock and sorrow that’s difficult to articulate.
When my sister-in-law received her colon and liver cancer diagnosis, she said that she wanted to get working on getting things fixed. For her, the one key component in her battle with cancer is prayer, as well. She’s been asking for prayers from congregations and individuals near and far. The Congregational UCC in Burlington, WI, their home church, even had a special worship time during their Wednesday evening educational program, at which Julie told them of her diagnosis, and the kids offered prayers for her.
She’s said that she can feel these, and many other prayers, being offered to God. She can feel the power of these prayers. She likens the feeling to being lifted up. And she knows God’s answering those prayers.
Some might say that these prayers have given her optimism that healing will come. Yes, that’s true. But I think Julie would agree that these prayers have given her more than optimism—they’ve given her hope. Hope in God’s promise to never leave her. Hope because she experiences God walking every step of the way with her. Hope that all will be well, no matter what the future holds.
Henri Nouwen, the late priest and author, wrote of these differences between hope and optimism:
“Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things- the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation, and so on-will get better. Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.
“All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would look like. Let’s live with hope.”
To live in hope, then, seems like the better of the two options. Certainly it’s not a bad thing to be optimistic—to expect that life and circumstances will improve as we journey through life. However, it seems to me that our optimistic bubble might burst if things don’t improve, and life doesn’t get better.
To hope—to trust in God and his ability to fulfill his promises—would be to know that all will be well—no matter what’s going on in life. A cancer diagnosis, a job loss, market ups and downs, financial busts and booms, thriving relationships or divisions between family, friends and community—the impact of all these events along life’s way are softened if we live in hope and trust in God.
In these days, filled with the peaks and valleys of life, may we all live hopefully.
In Christ,
Pastor Sharon