The four candles in the Advent wreath signify four things: hope, peace, love, and joy. I thought of this last week as I scrolled through my friends' Twitter updates and saw all these reports of unrest and economic downturn and political squabbles and personal sadness juxtaposed with something startling: many proclamations of gratitude (in keeping with the Thanksgiving holiday). The virtue of gratitude popping up in the midst of the usual ache and bad news is almost . . . weird.
Well, yesterday, Christians around the world lit the "hope" candle. Apt: most of us would agree that we all need a good injection of hope right now.
Last August, in a discussion about virtues, Paula Huston recounted a story that keeps returning to me at the oddest times. She was talking to a monk friend about some struggles she was having with a person in her life who just wasn't doing things the right way, with whom she was getting impatient—nothing big, just big enough to be frustrating to her.
"Ah," the monk said. "You need to cultivate hope, then."
She told us she'd found this startling—she'd expected to be told she needed to cultivate patience. But hope? Yes: her impatience was an indicator that she had given up hope for change. And what that really meant was she'd given up believing that God would actually do what he'd said he'd do. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty dangerous attitude. One most of us indulge in daily.
We often think of hope for the future as something that is predicated on circumstances. If the economy starts climbing upward, then we hope. If our candidate seems to be pulling ahead in the polls, then we hope. If I get the promotion, or if my family acts the way I think they should, or if I get the grades I wanted, then I hope. "It gives me hope," we say.
What strikes me is that this is the opposite of what Paul says brings hope: