Choosing Hope in Uncertainty

The howling wind hurled sheets of blinding snow across the interstate, rocking the car and cutting visibility to a car length ahead. I gripped the steering wheel tighter, let off the gas pedal, and prayed there were no cars stopped in my lane. I was driving blind and a rear-end collision was the last thing I needed to happen on this winter night. 

The trip had started fine on Christmas Eve, although not without warnings that the weather could get nasty. My brother and I were driving from northern Indiana to southern Ohio for our family Christmas get-together and decided to take my car instead of his truck to save on fuel. The weather forecast showed a winter storm system heading our way and it looked like it meant business. But we figured we’d get a jump start on it and be home for Christmas before the snow came. 

Plans started unraveling like a loose thread on a wool sweater a few hours before we were set to leave. In a rush to finish a basement remodeling job, we worked a few extra hours and didn’t set off until mid-afternoon. By the time we hit the road, a few lazy snowflakes were floating their way to the ground, like heralds from the dark blue clouds above signaling the giant snow pinata above the Midwest was about to burst and not with candy.

My car had new tires on it and a decent traction control system so what could a little snow along the way do to impede our trip? Besides, we’d grown up in the backcountry of the Midwest and learned to drive on snow just like we drove on the gravel back roads. Sure, my Honda Civic Si wasn’t exactly a Land Rover when it came to treacherous terrain but in the hands of a skilled driver it could do the job, I thought (with a tiny hint of ego). 

An hour into a four-hour trip, the snow was dumping so hard I could barely see beyond the hood of my car. The headlights reflected off the snowflakes and reduced visibility even more, forcing me to drive with the low beams on. As the snow accumulated on the interstate, the road noise vanished in an eerie silence and was replaced by a mounting tension from the realization that we were driving on packed snow hiding patches of black ice. If you’ve ever driven on packed snow, you’ll know the kind of silence I mean. It’s quiet, but it’s a menacing kind of quiet because it means your car’s tires are about as grippy as roller skates on an ice rink. 

I kept my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, my body rigid with tension and my eyes burning from straining so hard to see through the snow in search of red taillights. What had started as a four-hour trip was turning into a seven-hour nightmare with a high risk of colliding with another car on an icy interstate. And my brain was running out of the ability to focus.

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I’ve felt like my life was that car on the icy interstate and I bet a lot of you have felt it, too. What starts as a high-energy, optimistic entrance to adulthood gets replaced with the gnawing realization that plenty of things in the future are uncertain and that change is coming for us whether we like it or not. Misty-eyed dreams about that big career break, finding the love of your life, and being the best parent ever are slowly clouded over with uncertainty and a tinge of cynicism brought on by the bleak outlook of our world. 

We figure out that it takes lots of hard work to get that next promotion. That finding the love of our lives is not guaranteed and that heartbreak is as real as the butterflies we first felt when that special someone looked our way. Through some letdowns we learn that success isn’t guaranteed, that keeping those pounds off doesn’t come as easily anymore, and that just making it until the next paycheck replaces the priority of that next big promotion. Maybe it’s not for us.

Bit by bit, the hope we had for great careers, lasting relationships, and unlimited energy gets squashed by the reality we’re living in and the uncertainty of the future with its inevitable change. Optimism gets pushed into the corner and is replaced with anxiety about what is to come and, depending on your nature, either a growing desire to seize control of everything or wanting to disappear from it all because it’s just too much. 

And one day we end up driving our lives like cars in a snowstorm, with zero visibility, highly uncertain immediate circumstances, and a growing sense of our lack of control. We hang onto what we’ve got with a death grip and live in rigid tension, trying with all our might to see a way through the storm. It takes everything we have just to keep moving but it looks like the storm might outlast our ability to focus and overcome. 

Seem relatable? I get it. I lean in the direction of disappearing, maybe digging a bunker and stocking it with nonperishable food, batteries, and enough beef jerky to last the apocalypse. If the future is so uncertain, why bother living with hope for things to get better? Isn’t that just starry-eyed positive thinking that always ends up in disappointment? 

But what if I told you that hope is real, it’s alive, and it’s within reach, no matter how uncertain the future? 

That can seem like a far-out statement. It’s not, I promise. And while I can’t convince you that this is true, I can tell you my story and how I came to believe that hope is accessible now and relevant regardless of how uncertain and scary the future is. 

The foundation of my hope is in God and His faithfulness. Sounds like a Sunday School answer? Sure, but that’s because it’s true and I need to be reminded of it often. Turns out the gray-haired saint of a lady who taught us kids that God shows up for His people was right. There’s a reason the Bible has so many stories of God rescuing people from certain doom. It’s to remind us that we can control woefully little of the future but that God is already there and has got a plan. 

But what does it mean to practically live with hope in light of an uncertain and often downright scary future? How can you and I walk into the future with courage when change is often out of our control and still inevitable? I have not figured it all out yet, but what I’ve found is that two simple steps go a long way in keeping hope alive. 

First, I get to pray about what causes worry and anxiety in my heart. Prayer reorients my focus to the goodness, faithfulness, and provision of God and reminds me that while I exist in this tiny sliver called the present moment, God exists in the past, present, and future. Not only that, He promises to take care of His own and He’s in control. Prayer reminds me that God can handle an uncertain future and that He invites me to rest in the confidence of His provision.

Once my heart is resting in God’s provision and the certainty of His love, I ask a simple question, “What can I control?” Lots of anxiety is due to a lack of control or a loss of agency. Our brains love predictability and stability and when those factors are ripped away, it sends our brains into all kinds of panic trying to regain control. 

Can I control the economy? No. Can I make other people like me? Nope. Tried it and failed. Can I guarantee a successful career? Nope. How about starting a romantic relationship with the guarantee that it’ll become a long-lasting, fulfilling marriage? No, can’t even guarantee that. How about ensuring that I’ll never deal with any kind of serious illness or physical setbacks? Nope, that’s not promised. 

Okay, so I can’t control most of what goes on in the world. Really, I can only control my own thoughts, words and actions. So instead of saying, “How can I guarantee a successful career?” I started asking, “What can I do today to serve my company? How can I show up to my team, my boss, and my customers and serve them with excellence? How can I grow professionally so I’m always adding value?”

Instead of asking, “How can I guarantee that this relationship will last forever and always be easy and fulfilling?” I ask, “How can I be the best version of myself today so I can pour love and life into that other person? What can I do today to love that other person more deeply? How can I show up for them, assure them of my love, and serve them selflessly?”

See, it’s not about guaranteeing success forty years from now. It’s about being faithful right here with what I’ve got. I can’t guarantee that in forty years I’ll be fit and healthy, but I can choose to cut junk food from my diet, get more sleep, and start working out. And if I do this day after day, I can expect with reasonable certainty that forty years from now I will be healthy and fit. I’m living with a set of choices that usually leads to a specific outcome. That’s as certain as it gets. And it’s the same with relationships, or mental resilience, or fulfilling careers. Start with what you have and develop a set of actions that, when repeated day after day, lead to the kind of results you want.

Hope starts in God and His faithful provision. Choosing hope is a declaration in the face of despair that while we may not be in control of a lot, we’ll do what we can to bring light and healing into the world because of our hope in God and His eternal restoration. And then, living with hope means showing up day in and day out, doing the next thing that’s right in front of us to the best of our ability. It’s being a faithful presence and putting more into the world than we take out. As Zig Ziglar used to say, “If there is hope in the future, there is power in the present.”

The snow kept falling thick and fast. The wind kept howling. My brain was exhausted from its desperate focus on staying alive and straining my eyes to see through the white curtain. I was stiff all over, my body still rigid with tension. Occasionally the car would cross an icy patch on the interstate and the steering wheel would wobble as the tires fought for traction. 

As draining as the trip was, the only option was to keep going, slowly and carefully. It sucked driving at 25 miles an hour but at least we were moving. And as the hours crawled by, the snow began to let up. The wind died down. And bit by bit, the road noise picked up as the welcome sight of asphalt replaced the sheet of snow we’d been driving on. With dry roads and clear visibility, the last hour of the drive went by quickly and we arrived at our destination safely, although nearly four hours after we’d planned to arrive. 

In the worst of the snowstorm on the interstate, the hope that the storm would pass and the warmth of a family Christmas pulled us through. We were confident that if we kept going, slow as it was, we’d get through to better times. And that’s just what happened. Hope, like a beacon of light piercing the cold of the storm, pulled us onward despite the immediate circumstances. 

Hope is real. 

Hope is alive. 

Look for the light.

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