I’ve been waiting for these for quite some time – these brilliant yellow bursts of sunshine that we planted about two months ago in our backyard. I received them as tiny little seeds from a very dear friend who is also a gardener/prayer warrior/teacher/pastor extraordinaire, and I was so excited to plant them, as sunflowers are truly my favorite flower. I set them in a small ceramic bowl on my kitchen counter where I knew I wouldn’t lose them, and in spite of my excitement to see them bloom, I got distracted by you guessed it – 2020.
You all know what I mean when I say that because you've all been living out the craziness of these days. Quarantine, isolation, protests, political division, fires, storms, tragedies, you name it and it probably happened in this past year, and whether you’ve survived it all pretty well, or whether you seem to have been hit with the worst of it all, none of us can say we haven’t been affected, and I don’t think any of us can say we want to stay where we are.
We all want things to get better, to move forward, for 2020 to end, for the seeds of hope we planted at the beginning of 2020 to finally spring forth into bloom.
In the poem Essay on Man by Alexander Pope, he says “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” referring to our common quest to find strength in even the worst of situations. This expression describes the optimism that keeps us going until things get better because we believe they will, and I think it’s interesting that Pope wrote this as someone who knew quite a bit about tough times and perseverance.
Here’s what I’ve learned about Alexander Pope that is quite relevant today:
He was born on May 21, 1688 into a Catholic family in England during a time when Catholics were forbidden to hold office, practice their religion, attend public schools, or live within 10 miles of London. So, Pope grew up in nearby Windsor Forest where he was mostly self-taught along with some guidance from private tutors and priests.
As if this isolation and unfair discrimination weren’t enough, at the age of 12, he contracted spinal tuberculosis, which left him with permanent physical disabilities – he never grew taller than four and a half feet, was hunchbacked, and required daily care throughout adulthood. These features, combined with his association with a religious minority and exclusion from formal education attributed to his initial unpopularity in the press, but he was still recognized for writing accomplished verse by his teens and published his first major work, An Essay on Criticism, at the young age of 23. He is known as the first full-time professional English writer to support himself through his writing.
This life of Alexander Pope is one of hope. The odds were against him, but he found success and happiness anyway. His Essay on Man, from which the “Hope Springs Eternal” quote is from, is said to be his argument for the existence of order in the world that comes from our creator God, and that it is therefore our responsibility as humans to strive for the good and the orderly. That seems to be a good reason for hope – the achievement of goodness and order.
It seems like those same elements are what we’re all seeking today. We desire to see good come from the difficulty of our current situations, for order to be restored, for our lives to feel safe and peaceful again. But when it seems like we’ve been waiting long enough for these things, what can we do? I certainly don’t have a magic pill or miracle solution, but I do have God’s word.
In my search for hope, in my waiting on those sunflowers that we finally planted a couple months ago, I have found a lot of peace in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 40:29-31 says:
“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
When I sat and prayed over this verse last week, the word that caught my attention was the word WAIT. I can’t say that’s the word I wanted to focus on, but nonetheless, it was the word that spoke to me. So I took that word, wrote it down, and asked for God’s help with it because quite honestly, waiting is something I don’t really want to do anymore.
What I received from this prayer on waiting was surprisingly, the word HOPE. I was reminded that IN THIS WAITING, GOD IS WITH ME. He understands, he knows, and he has a plan that is good, even though his timing is not mine and his ways are not my ways. I can trust him above my own thoughts and plans.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9
Although I said I didn’t have a miracle solution for my waiting woes, I did witness one small miracle a day after saying this prayer – one of my sunflowers bloomed!
And while that may not seem like that huge of a miracle, it truly brought me so much joy, and truly felt like God was reminding me to sit tight, to wait, to have patience, and that he will make things good. There are still more sunflowers to bloom in my yard, just like there are many more reasons to hang on to hope.
My prayer for all of you today is that you feel God’s hope in your hearts. I hope you remember a friend or loved one who has brought you "seeds" of hope, or that you find a sunflower, hear a child’s laughter, see a beautiful sky, or whatever on this earth that brings you joy, and know that hope will spring forth.
A few related passages to read and pray (one for each day left this week J): Try reading your verse of choice several times. What stands out to you? Write it down, color and pray around it if you want. Write what God speaks to your heart and find peace in your day.
2 Timothy 4:17