According to Forrest Gump’s mama, life is like a box of chocolates because you never know what you’re gonna get. I think life is more like chocolate-swirl ice cream. We pretty much do know what we’ll get: a swirly combination of joy and grief, satisfaction and longing. The flavors blend together to some extent, but occasionally you scoop up a solid, thick strand of pure chocolate or unmixed vanilla. Sometimes life feels like all joy, but at other times, all sorrow.
We will suffer. If we’ve already walked a dark road, we know that we will again. If suffering has yet to touch our own hearts, we see the pain of those we love and know that it will find us, too. Living with this expectation can be scary, but I think it’s essential. Because in order to endure, we need to practice hope.
Mommy’s Coming Back
A couple of years ago, I ended up in a small, hot room, brimful of noisy toys and four little boys. My mission: keep them as happy and quiet as possible while the grown-ups on the other side of the wall studied the Bible. Years later, one thing still resonates in my heart—the repeated self-comforting expression of the youngest boy: “Mommy’s coming back.”
Sometimes he said it with a confident grin. Sometimes he said it on the verge of tears, with a question in his wobbly voice. Mostly, though, it was a quiet and focused affirmation. He was okay, because his mommy was coming back.
Toward the end of the parents’ prayer time, he had just about reached his limit. And then, this dear child made up a song for himself: “Mommy’s coming ba-ack, Mommy’s coming ba-ack, Mommy’s coming back for Noah!” I picked him up for a cuddle and picked up his tune, too. When I stopped singing, he started to cry until I again sang the words his heart needed.
His mommy’s return was the comfort of his young soul, and he reminded himself of her promise consistently throughout that time. Toy tractors and cars could distract him for a few minutes, but when his brow creased with worry and the tears dropped off his cheek, he needed a stronger hope to pull him through. The joy on his face when his mommy opened that door was beautiful. Young Noah was comforted with the promised return of his much-loved mommy.
Our Solid Hope
Noah’s faith in his mommy’s promise was a gentle rebuke to me. Here’s why: I long to be as sustained through this life by the hope of Jesus coming back as Noah was by the hope of again being gathered into his mommy’s arms.
The Bible pictures the span of our lives as grass shooting up in the warmth of spring, only to burn away in the summer heat. Though our suffering seems unending, our years pass as a breath.
Moses’ ancient prayer in Psalm 90 captures the essence of this reality:
All our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away (vv. 9–10).
We can feel stuck in toil and trouble. But learning “to number our days” gets us “a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). Our struggle is not forever. Resting in God’s control nurtures a wise heart, a heart that looks to the Lord.
The prayer of Moses then starts to sound a lot like little Noah:
Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! (v. 13)
The solid foundation of Moses’ hope is the Lord—Yahweh—his covenant keeping God. The following verses (14–17) shine with hope:
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
We who trust in Christ have this firm hope. Mommies (and daddies) actually might not make it back. They certainly won’t stay with us forever on this side of heaven. But Jesus will! His Word is solid enough for us to build our house on, to stake our hope upon.
The favor of the Lord is upon us, and we see it most clearly in Christ. His work establishes us. Trouble, labor, joy and satisfaction actually do blend together as we look to Him. Throughout our fleeting days, He satisfies us with his steadfast love. And our work done for Jesus, by His grace, will be established forever, even as our earthly days wilt like grass.
The Bible calls our suffering “light and momentary affliction” not because it’s easy, but because it is nothing compared to the joy that will be ours forever in glory (2 Cor. 4:16–18). Jesus is coming back.
We will suffer. But Christians have access to an immeasurable amount of hope in our suffering, because in Christ, we have access to the immeasurable Being of our God—the triune, unchanging, steadfastly loving Creator.
Whether we’re running strong, walking, or desperately crawling inch by inch toward the finish line, hard pressed by suffering on every side, we must practice our hope. We must turn it on, like revving up our car’s engine or stretching before a run. There’s activity and intention involved. We may be tempted to despair, but we can fix our eyes on our returning Savior. We look to the One who is our hope. We read His Word, meditate on His character, and cling to His promises. We know that our Good Shepherd will give us the strength we need, in the moment we need it, because He said He would. He will keep us.
Let’s practice our hope together. We are the toddlers who need songs to remember things and friends to help us. Let’s daily tell ourselves, remind each other, sing it, recite it, memorize it: Jesus is coming back! On that great day we will see our Savior face to face, and He will gather us into his arms. Home at last, our momentary suffering will be over and we will delight in our Father’s glory forever.