This year, it was already February before I finally put the final touches on Christmas-tear-down. After the ornament boxes are stowed in the garage, the wreath’s tucked into its bag, and the leftover pine needles are vacuumed up, my very last tradition of the season is to write in the holiday journal. This journal I’ve been adding to for a decade chronicles each year’s festivities from Thanksgiving to New Year’s—who we celebrated with, what we ate, where we went.
As I closed the journal on this past year, I realized I’m not sad to see it go. In fact, I’m thrilled! Some years make you cheer and shout. Others bring out your nostalgic smile.
Last year for us was more the kind where you brush off your hands in a “good riddance” motion because it was a year of sighs and disappointment. Of loss and heart hurts. Of money struggles and relationship unrest and wondering “What’s next, Lord?” more than once.
Maybe you’re nodding your head in agreement because you have braved the wind and the waves for a while now too. You know what it’s like to breathe a sigh of relief as you say goodbye to a succession of days and mark the end of a season you’d rather not visit again. Ever, thank you very much.
Maybe we both can say with utter conviction, “The struggle is real.”
To be human means to live a variety of life seasons with all of their ups and downs. And to know we are in good company, since most of our favorite Bible characters knew what it meant to struggle—and to re-find hope.
Even David, an ordinary guy God nicknamed “after my own heart,” wrote numerous poems and songs about despair – and learning to hope in God.
So in the wide-eyed freshness of welcoming each year as it comes, let’s look at four encouraging ways to rekindle hope from despair:
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1. Lean into God’s Love
Despite what the circumstances seem to say during difficult days, God is still exactly the same – in love with you! His love remains constant and unchanging, the truest most vibrant kind of affection you and I will ever experience.
In tough times it’s important to lean into God’s love. Sure, you might be able to quote the verses, but how are you actually experiencing His heart for you today?
Take a moment to look around. Where do you see Him showing up for you? What little love gifts has He scattered around in your everyday life? What bits of grace do you see right in front of you?
A sunrise, a giggle, your favorite Bible with the pages all marked up, the story of what He did just last month to provide for you…these are all declarations – and proof – of how God unceasingly feels about you.
On the hard days (or months or years) we must lean into His love. Rest in it. Look for evidence of it everywhere. Trust it a little more each day. And new hope will begin to seep into ordinary life.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:9 ESV)
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2. Release the “Shoulds”
One of the enemy’s favorite tricks in the middle of discouraging times is “should.” “Should” can sneak up on you from unexpected places: a sermon, a well-meaning friend, your own thoughts.
And before you know it you’re feeling guilty that you aren’t godlier in this tough season, that you don’t really feel the joy of all things work together for good quite yet, or that you’re still stuck here when other people seem to have figured out the secret to living happily.
But the truth of the gospel is Christ took care of “should” once and for all on the cross. As a believer you no longer owe “should” anything!
In Colossians 2:13-15, Paul reminds us Christ triumphed over the enemy and all his guilt and shoulds for good! That means once and for all. Forever free!
Any “shoulds” thrown at you are no longer yours – not even the “shoulds” of behaving like a better Christian, or quoting more verses during tough days, or looking like you have it all together.
Letting go of the pressure and guilt allows hope to blossom into something lovely in your life.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 ESV)
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3. Listen for Sounds of Hope
Often when we wade through tough times, it’s easy to be bogged down by circumstances. What’s happening right in front of us looms so large it drowns out everything else.
But to grab onto fresh hope, you must stop and listen—listen for the sounds of hope that are already nearby. A beautiful way to do this is by returning to the hope-filled promises in God’s Word and listening for evidence of them in real life.
How is God giving you more sufficiency to face things than you ever thought possible? (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Where do you see God’s pro-you attitude playing out today? (Romans 8:31)
What particular circumstance you faced recently is proof of God’s gracious deliverance and care? (Psalm 34:6-7)
The God who never lies wants you to claim His promises as your own and hear the sounds of hope rising around you.
If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31 ESV)
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4. Focus on the Right Question
It’s only natural in days of deep despair to question: Does God hear me? Does He see me? Where is He in the middle of this mess? Why haven’t things changed yet?
But there is one question that God longs for us to ask more than any other. In our quest for renewed hope, the real question that must permeate our thoughts is:
Who does God want to be for me right now?
In the middle of the storm, when you’re struggling to keep your head above water and keep getting salt water in your mouth from the wave…who does He want to be for you?
It’s a question of where your eyes focus – on the circumstances around you, or on Jesus.
It’s a question that draws your heart toward His heart and helps you nestle into Him.
It’s a question that if you truly pause and listen for His answer, will always give you beauty from the ashes of your fight. And renewed hope.
Because the One whose name is “I Am” promises to be all we need, in every circumstance. He sees every heart hurt and disappointment. And whether the wind and waves instantly calm; or you ride the storm with Him a while longer – the Great I Am promises to be your comfort. Your security. Your confidence. And your forever hope.
He wants to bestow on you “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3 NIV)
Janna Wright told her first story—something about kittens and lost mittens—at age two. As an author and speaker she still loves stories, sharing them often in her “biz-nistry,” Grace Thread, and her book, Grace Changes Everything. Janna adores deep talks, the CO mountain air outside her back door, and most of all, helping women of faith enjoy Jesus and the adventure of grace.
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