Last night I found myself strolling the familiar aisles of my local Barnes & Noble. The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time to peruse the shelves, as so many of the items on display offer beautiful snow-scape covers, and themes of warmth, of miracles and of togetherness. I was thinking— half meditation and half prayer— of what I would say to all of you this month.
I recalled my article from last December which, as per usual with this column, dealt with some pretty hefty doses of reality.
This year, I would like to do something different.
This year, I want to bring you a message of Hope.
The truth is that I have no idea what the unique challenges are that you and your spouse are facing in this moment, have faced in the past or will face down the road. I have no idea if your biggest marital concern this holiday season is the size of your gift-giving budget, or how to keep the lights on. I don’t even know if you or your spouse have been faithful to each other in thought, word or deed.
What I do know is that Christmas is a time of miracles, and miracles are manifested out of hope.
Now “hope” might sound like a really fluffy term… And yet I will argue it is not. Hope is so important, in fact, that I will say that the absence of hope isn’t merely hopelessness— but death.
Day in and day out, I work with people who have been at the edges of their sanity— often contemplating ending their own lives. I’ve working with individuals coping with physical death and loss of loved ones. And I’ve worked with people who thought their marriage and life as they knew it were coming to a close.
All of these cases shared a common theme: Hope was no where to be found.
In my work, I have found this to be true:
If you want to save your marriage, your faith, your livelihood and even your life— you must— MUST have Hope.
Hope is the acknowledgement of possibility.
Christmas is a time of Hope because Christians believe that Jesus came to bring salvation to God’s people. His birth, His life, and eventually His death all served to open up for us the possibility of Heaven.
The possibility of something beyond death.
Of course the choice remains largely our own to make use of the possibilities that lay before us:
To believe, or not.
To accept, or not.
To be faithful, or not.
To fight for things you think are worth fighting for… or not.
Back when I first started writing for EngagedMarriage.com, I shared the story of a couple who asked if they were beyond help. I think today, if someone asked me that question, my response would be, “Well, you tell me— Are you beyond Hope?”
“But EJ—“ I can already hear someone saying, “I can have all the hope in the world and things might not work out!”
Yes. That is true. Hope is the gateway of possibility. It is not a guarantee of any outcome.
Hopelessness, however, almost assuredly is a guarantee.
Because if you’re truly hopeless, you’ve already given up. You’ve already resigned yourself to the death of whatever.
Having hope means that despite the possibility that things might not work out, it might be worth it to another try. It acknowledges that, even in some pretty troublesome times there remains an alternative possibility.
Of course the complicated part with marriages is that both parties need to get on board— and that might not happen right away, or ever.
Even the best marriages are tough from time to time.
But being in a healthy marriage with someone who truly does not want to be married to you? Well, I don’t even know if that’s possible!
As my mother, who is currently visiting, so aptly stated, “There’s more to marriage than not getting divorced.” (Isn’t she great?)
At the same time, sometimes one person needs to hold that hope for a while, until the other person can see. Even better if you’re in the kind of relationship where you’re still able to communicate and show the other person why there’s still Hope to be had!
So wherever you are this Christmas and Holiday Season, my wish for you is that you and your spouse will rediscover the will to consider endless possibilities for your relationship, and not just focus on the possible end.
Have Hope. Do the work. And remember that the love that is supposed to exist between couples is supposed to be a reflection of God’s love for us, and at work within us.