Hope as a Spiritual Workout

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1).

For years, my husband has handed me theological books to read, works that he has loved and that have impacted him.

Sometimes I read them. Sometimes I just can’t. And sometimes I wait.

That’s the case with a J.I. Packer book I recently picked up called Rediscovering Holiness: Know the Fullness of Life with God. It’s almost as if God knows the books we need for a certain time, even if our husbands might drop them in our laps a little bit early.

One insight from Packer that jumped out at me in particular is that “the holy life is not a higher life, it is a daily life.” I love that reminder that our faith is lived out every day and is a constant and loving companion. 

I think we can say the same about hope. Hope is not just something for the far distant future, to be fulfilled completely and forever in Heaven. Hope is also a daily, renewable gift, and it is a discipline.

Sometimes we’re given hope as a total freebie, like an unexpected bouquet of flowers sent to our door. Most of the time though, in my experience at least, hope might take a little bit more thought and work. Hope comes from saying yes to God’s invitation to trust Him. We trust that He really is working out all things for good, and that is a very hopeful thing indeed, especially when things are not going well.

For most of us in North America, the worst of the pandemic seems to be over. Lockdowns are lifting, churches are reopening, and life is slowly returning to some kind of normal. I feel as if my hope muscles have been going to the gym every single day for 15 months or so. The whole pandemic experience of not seeing beloved family, of not being able to meet in person as a church throughout most of that time, of socially distancing and watching way too many movies has been one big workout in trying to have a good attitude. It’s been a marathon of trying to remain positive and hopeful. I have definitely grown stronger in the discipline of daily hope, and I bet you have, too.  

I have abs of hope that I’ve never seen before and might not see again if I don’t keep attending to this spiritual discipline.

One simple exercise I used during the pandemic is suggested in Cindy Bunch’s wonderful book: Be Kind to Yourself: Releasing Frustration and Embracing Joy. Cindy suggests a journaling activity where you answer these questions on a daily basis: “What’s bugging me?” and “What’s bringing me joy?” Doing this exercise for 30 days establishes a wonderful habit of mindfulness, but it also reveals to you something about what is good and healthy in your life, and what you might need to tweak or present to God as an opportunity for growth. You can download journaling pages here and try the exercise for yourself.

I suggest this is the perfect moment to spend some time thinking about what brings you joy and considering what bugs you. Soon enough our lives will be back on full blast. Church activities will pile up again. Weeknights will be full of meetings and studies. I guarantee that running around in circles will be back if we let it.

Let’s take a few moments before that happens to consider what helps us hope.

Karen Stiller is the author of The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness and More.

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About Karen Stiller

Karen Stiller is the author of The Minister’s Wife: a memoir of faith, doubt, friendship, loneliness, forgiveness and more (Tyndale House, 2020), a senior editor of Faith Today magazine, and hosts The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Podcast. She is co-author of Craft, Cost & Call: How to Build a Life as a Christian Writer (Friesen Press, 2019); Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond (2015), Going Missional (2012); and editor of Evangelicals Around the World: a global handbook for the 20th century (Thomas Nelson, 2015), and The Lord’s Prayer (Wipf & Stock, 2015), by faculty at the University of Toronto (Wycliffe College). Stiller moderates the annual Religion and Society series at the University of Toronto, a debate series between leading atheists and theologians that seeks to generate critical conversations on matters of faith, society and public interest. Karen is married to Brent Stiller, a priest with the Anglican Church in North America. They live in Ottawa and have three adult children, Erik, Holly and Thomas. Stiller has a Bachelor of Arts in International Development Studies from Dalhousie University, a communications certificate from Tyndale University College & Seminary, and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction from University of King’s College, Dalhousie. Stiller holds an honorary doctorate from Providence University and is an honorary alumna at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

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