(…continued) One of Martin Luther’s students told Luther he was thinking about asking for a young lady’s hand in marriage. He loved the girl and wanted to marry her, but he was worried about such a life-long commitment. The young man asked Luther what he should do. Luther replied with his usual bluntness, “Either way, you will be sorry; whatever you do, you will regret it.” What kind of advice is that?
Well, it wasn’t advice at all. Luther was not giving advice, but merely stating a fact; a very important fact to keep in mind in marriage and in all of life. There will always be problems in whatever decision we make about anything. That’s life. So don’t get your hopes so unrealistically high that they can never be met, and don’t be surprised by the disappointments that will surely come. Expect the regret. Pass up the opportunity to marry a girl that you truly love and you will miss out on all the joys of having a family, one of life’s greatest blessings. But get married to that lovely girl and it won’t be long and you will find out that she isn’t always so lovely. As it says in the marriage service, “Because of sin the gladness of marriage can be overcast and the gift of family can become a burden.”
If it wasn’t for hope, along with blind love, no one would ever get married. But never are those hopes completely fulfilled. Hopes move us forward. Those same high hopes make disappointment and regret inevitable. But we keep on hoping, we keep moving, and, along with the joys and blessings, we do keep getting disappointed. I’m not saying this is a bad way to live. I’m saying, that’s life. We are just what Zechariah says we are, “prisoners of hope.”
Kenny was a member of my congregation many years ago. At age 37, he was already the biggest farmer in the county. His father was a big land-owner and both his parents died young, so Kenny inherited all of that land; and, had the resources and the ambition to keep getting bigger. Not only did he have more land than anyone in the area, but he had all the best machinery; and, he had the best of everything else life could offer. He had been a star athlete in high school. A few years later, he returned from the Vietnam War as a hero. He had a wonderful wife, three healthy children, and a big house. And Kenny was a good guy. Other farmers envied Kenny, but everyone liked and respected him. He had lots of friends, a good family, and the money to do whatever he wanted to do. He had everything one could ever hope for. Kenny really did ‘have it all’ like few others I have ever known.
One Spring evening when I was working late at the church office Kenny stopped in. He had never before stopped at my office and was seldom at church for worship. Kenny’s eyes were red like he had been crying, and he was in a somber mood. He said, “I don’t know what is the matter with me. It’s Spring, and this usually my favorite time of year. I’ve always been eager to get out into the fields, but these days I can hardly drag myself out of bed. I have just been so depressed about everything. I’m not interested in anything, I’m not enjoying anything, and I don’t care about anything. My family is worried about me, and I just don’t get it. I have never been sad like this, not even in Vietnam when I really had something to be depressed about. Life has always been full and good, and I’ve always been happy. But now I feel empty.”
We visited for a long time about many things. Kenny was a nice guy and conversation was easy. Depression is always complicated and I didn’t want to oversimplify anything. And I have forgotten most of what we talked about. But one thing I do recall. I remember saying, “You know, Kenny, every other farmer around here looks up to you. They admire you, they wish they had what you have, and they live in the hope of someday being able to work up to where you are. That hope keeps them going, and they think that once they have as much land as you, life will be good. Well Kenny, you’ve got it all, and it is starting to occur to you that having it all still isn’t enough. But you have no higher to go and nothing else to hope for. Not only are you depressed, but you are depressed about being depressed because you know you should be happy. I’m not a psychologist, but I do know something about God, and I think God might be somewhere in this. Shucks, you’ve got everything else except God. God has really blessed you, Kenny, but you haven’t left much room for Him in your life. I think maybe God is trying to get you to pay attention.”
Those whose main goal and hope in life to make lots of money, always end up disappointed. They are disappointed if they don’t get all the money they wanted, and, they are disappointed if they do. Ben Franklin once said, “Nothing brings more pain than too much pleasure; and nothing brings more bondage than too much liberty.” We could add, “Nothing leaves one more hopeless than having all of one’s hopes fulfilled.”
We are prisoners of hope. (continued…)
Job 8:13-15 — Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it, but it does not hold.
II Corinthians 7:10a — Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
Psalm 31:24 — Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.
Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.