Holding Onto Hope When It Feels Dangerous

Hillary Rector

Near the end of Romans, Paul writes:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” —Romans 15:13

This passage recently caught my attention, and started me thinking about what exactly hope is, and what it means that he asks us to “abound” in it.

We hope in small, casual ways all the time.

“I hope the Razorbacks win [the National Championship, the SEC West,…ok, this game], “I hope dinner turns out,” or “I hope you have a nice weekend!” And we hope in really big, ultimate ways, too—the hope of Heaven, the hope of restoration and reunion, and the hope of a world finally set right.

Photo Credit: Amanda Tipton, Creative Commons,

Photo Credit: Amanda Tipton, Creative Commons,

It’s the whole spectrum of situations that exist between these two poles that makes me ponder what it means to hope for everyday stuff that really matters: “I hope this job works out for her,” “I hope their baby gets well,” or “I hope he finds some peace.”

These are things that hurt when they don’t go how we want or expect, their outcomes affect people we love in life-altering ways, and sometimes the ways they play out are unfair and difficult and sad.

It’s here that I find myself resisting Paul’s encouragement to “abound in hope.”

I usually hope with my fingers crossed.

I hope in a hushed tone and with a knowing head shake that is more gearing up for something to go wrong than it is looking for something to go well. I’m saying, “Oh, I really hope this goes smoothly” but I’m meaning, “I’m really worried it won’t.”

My expressing a hope for something occurs simultaneously with the sinking awareness that it could very well not go how I’d choose.

Hope feels dangerous, almost unwise.

Like I’ve sent a gold-leaf, letterpress invitation for disappointment and defeat.

Yet, there is the text, telling us we can abound in hope.

Another translation reads “overflow with hope.” I’m sure in one way Romans is talking about the big, ultimate, hope of as-it-should-be. But “abound with hope” doesn’t sound like something that’s only the overarching backdrop for our faiths, or like something we resort to when all the more practical options are off the table.

It also doesn’t sound like the power of positive thinking, or a spiritual-sounding way to stick our heads in the sand about real difficulty.

As I was mentally scrolling through all the things this passage might mean, and wondering how I am supposed to be able to “overflow with hope” when I live in the real world, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I could think of hope more like many of us think of prayer:

As a deliberate and intentional act.

Maybe hope is not just the acknowledgement of a desire, but an action we set our minds to.

It’s like loving, or having faith even (especially?) when we stand in hard or uncertain times. Maybe I could get more on board with hope as a determined decision to remember that the people and situations I’m concerned for are and have always already been in God’s care.

Hope is not a passive, static emotion that is supposed to trump all the sad news and scary circumstances. Hope can be a proactive position of my heart, mind, and actions—a stance from which I’m motivated not just to believe in good but to seek out how to contribute to it.

This, of course, isn’t a comprehensive definition.

But it’s a new [to me] way of thinking about hope that’s adding to my understanding of it.

I can better understand how hope fits into this world if I don’t think of it as a happy feeling I’ll need to figure out how to sustain even when something devastating happens.

I can see a smidge more how it might be possible to abound in hope when I think of it as a commitment to keep scanning the horizon for good, even when that good doesn’t look the first thousand ways I thought it would.

Hillary Rector

Hillary Rector

Hillary lives and reads in Nashville, Tennessee, where she teaches writing at a local university.

  • Ellie

    Thank you for sharing this! I have always struggled with the concept of hope, seeing it more as having expectations for something good and then being disappointed when it doesn’t go the way you wanted/expected. I love the comparison with faith and love.

  • david la rose

    Thanks for sharing. Good for me to hear it this way

  • Samantha Barnes

    I’ve been going back to this over and over the past few days trying to process it and what it means for my life right now. Thanks so much for sharing this, Hillary.