As a Christian, when my mum was ill and getting worse, I prayed everyday for her to get better, knowing that in earthly terms there was absolutely no hope. People just don't recover from degenerative diseases.
It's hard to be a Christian in that kind of situation because, for me anyway, I felt as though I was in a constant battle between what I could see in front of me each day and the fact that I knew God was and is the Great Healer. In many ways this meant that I wasn't prepared for mum's death when it did arrive because I had convinced myself so strongly that God was going to heal her on earth. This made the eventual reality even more difficult to take.
So why did I put myself through that?
I felt that I had 'hope' but I can see now that what I had was a self-made interpretation of hope, not an eternal, Kingdom hope. I would pray with what I thought was a big pile of hope, trying to persuade God that mum shouldn't die, shouldn't leave us here on earth without her.
After some time this kind of prayer became too much of a strain on my emotions and my relationship with God. I was putting too much effort into talking to God to try and earn brownie points for spending time with Him, but then a funny thing happened. As I spent more time with Him, my prayers began to change and He started to fill me with a different kind of hope. A genuine hope.
I remember vividly I'd spend at least 30 minutes a day sitting in the jacuzzi at the local gym just chatting to God, pouring my heart out to Him, as well as just resting in His presence and listening to the thoughts He put on my heart. I found that as I started to come to Him just to spend time with Him without an agenda He was filling me with hope and changing what I hoped for.
It says in Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 'There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die.' Don't get me wrong, I never wanted mum to die and of course I still wish she was here, but I started to accept that there was a bigger picture to life, and not just in my life; others' too.
What does God's word say about hope?
The Bible says, 'If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.' Or, as The Message puts it, 'If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot.' 1 Corinthians 15:19
Many people have turned hope into something similar to what I was doing - essentially 'wishing' and sometimes bargaining with God. I know now that hope is something that only comes from God. We cannot create it, however much we try.
In the original Greek New Testament the word which we now translate as 'hope' means 'a strong and confident expectation'. Only God can reveal the true meaning of 'hope' to us and I don't believe it is a concept that we'll ever fully understand until we meet Him face to face. Humans like to label things, they like to put things in boxes so they can understand them, or think they understand them, but that's not how God works.
So what was I hoping for?
As I slowly gave over my wishes and dreams to God He started to replace them with His hopes and dreams and they became the dreams of my heart. I started praying about lots of different things, for friends, the future, for family, of course for mum but most of all, for God to be glorified. I couldn't have prayed for these things in my own strength. God was showing me the bigger picture.
I couldn't honestly say that I was confident in mum being healed on earth. That would be a stupid thing to proclaim. And that wasn't what God wanted me to be confident in; He wanted me to hope in Him, know that He was in charge, that the best is yet to come, that we have an eternity to spend with Him, and that this is just the start.
God never promises that life is going to be easy, but if we surrender our hearts to Him he will show us a way of living above our circumstances and being joyful and at peace just where we are.
I believe mum is having an absolutely great time with her Sovereign King, sitting at his feet in freedom that she could never have found on earth. And I believe that I will see her again one day and we'll sit together at God's throne and bow down to Him alongside millions of others.
He knows what He's doing.