Hope is Leaving Unknown Future Unknown by Henri Nouwen
The passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Turn My Mourning into Dancing,” published in 2001:
We will experience the minutes and hours and days of our lives differently when hope takes up residence. In a letter to Jim Forest, who at the time directed the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Thomas Merton wrote, “The real hope is not in something we think we can do, but in God, who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.”
Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world, and success in the business. Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown future unknown. Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness.
No one can truly say with certainty where he or she will be ten or twenty years from now. You do not know if you will be free or in captivity, if you will be honoured or despised, if you will have many friends or few, if you will be liked or rejected. But when you hold lightly these dreams and fears, you can be open to receive every day as a new day and live your life as a unique expression of God’s love for humankind.
There is an old expression that says, “As long as there is life there is hope.” As Christians we say, “As long as there is hope there is life.” Can hope change our lives? Take away our sadness and fatalism? A story helps me answer such questions.
A soldier was captured as a prisoner of war. His captors transported him by train far from his homeland. He felt isolated from country, bereft of family, estranged from anything familiar. His loneliness grew as he continued not to hear anything from home. He could not know that his family was even alive, how his country was faring. He had lost a sense of anything to live for.
But suddenly unexpectedly, he got a letter. It was smudged, torn at the edges from months of travel. But it said, “We are waiting for you to come home. All is fine here. Don’t worry.” Everything instantly seemed different. His circumstances had not changed. He did the same difficult labour on the same meagre rations, but now he knew someone waited for his release and homecoming. Hope changed his life.
God has written us a letter. The good news of God’s revelation in Christ declares to us precisely what we need to hope. Sometimes the words of the Bible do not seem important to us. Or they do not appeal to us. But in those words we hear Christ saying in effect, “I am waiting for you. I am preparing a house for you and there are many rooms in My house.” Paul the Apostle tells us, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2). We hear a promise and an invitation to a life we could not dream of if all we considered were our own resources.
Therein is the hope that gives us new power to live, new strength. We find a way, even in sadness and illness and even death, never to forget how we can hope.
We catch glimmers of this way to live even while we must admit how dimly we see it and imperfectly we live it. “I am holding on to my conviction that I can trust God,” I must tell myself sometimes, “since I cannot say yet say it fully.” I dare to say it even when everything is not perfect, when I know others will criticise my actions, when I fear that my limitations will disappoint many—and myself. But still I trust that the truth will shine through, even when I cannot fully grasp it. Still I believe that God will accomplish what I cannot, in God’s own grace and unfathomable might.
The paradox of expectation is that those who believe in tomorrow can better live today; those who expect joy to come out of sadness can discover the beginnings of a new life amid the old; those who look forward to the returning Lord can discover Him already in their midst. Just as the love of a mother for her son can grow while she is waiting for his return, just as lovers can rediscover each other after long periods of absence, so our intimate relationship with God can become deeper and more mature while we wait patiently in expectation of His return.
To hope for growth, to believe even in its possibility, is to say no to every form of fatalism. It is to voice a no to every way we tell ourselves “I know myself—I cannot expect any changes.” This no to discouragement and self-despair comes in the context of a yes to life, a yes we say amid even fragile times lived in a world of impatience and violence. For even while we mourn, we do not forget how our life can ultimately join God’s larger dance of life and hope.