Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Journey through time—faith, hope, love

 As a child I memorized 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter. Then in high school and college I studied it as literature. “Now there abides faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”

I’ve always been a wonderer.  I wondered what the difference was between faith and hope. And what made love greater. And how to measure how much of each I might have. I still don’t have it all worked out, but I’ve gained some insight.

I’m learning to see faith, hope, and love as companions on a journey through time. A sort of spiritual time capsule. And these days I’m trying to understand them through the lens of aging.

Faith—a look to the past. Hope—a perspective on the future. Love—to be lived out here and now.

Faith: I see faith as focused on the past and on all the ways God has shown his faithfulness. Certainly, in my own life, I remember God bringing me through dark times into spacious places, walking with me through dim valleys on twisting paths, but keeping me safe. And I see God doing that through the Scriptures—to his people and to individuals such as Moses, David, and the Apostles of the New Testament. We have a testimony about God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness through the years. Our understanding of who God is and how he treats us gives us faith for facing our trials today.

A backward look of faith can actually heal our past. Here’s an example. In kindergarten I was bullied by two huge first-graders. It happened on the brief walk to and from school, which my parents taught me to do on my own. These two girls made fun of me and threatened me. One afternoon they jumped out from behind a tree, brandished sticks like weapons, and chased me to the corner. I ran home in a panic, but dared not tell my parents. They had told me what would happen if I ever said anything about it.

The memory stayed with me, dragging that feeling of panic into the present whenever I thought of it or saw people walking toward me on the sidewalk. That changed when I learned about using my imagination to walk with Jesus into that memory and see him there with me, protecting me, talking with me, and bringing me safely home. It was actually an exercise in reality as Jesus really was with me. But now I could see him, and the fear left. Faith in Jesus’ presence healed that part of my past.

Our memories seem to play an increasing role as we age. How good to be able to reach back in time and touch them with imaginative faith.

Hope: Hope looks to the future. It is fed by faith in all God has done for us in the past and in the scriptural stories of God’s dealings with his people. It senses that, as he has been in the past, so will he be in all our tomorrows. As the psalmist says, “His lovingkindness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23).

The fears natural to the aging process call out for hope. The fear of dementia is perhaps the greatest. A poll taken in 2012 indicates that Alzheimer’s is the disease American’s most fear, edging out even cancer (November 11, 2012, Marist Poll). Anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite (that’s a lot of As) says that “Our ageist society pathologizes natural transitions, and our consumer society sells us remedies to ‘fix’ them, like hormone replacement therapy, erectile dysfunction drugs, and facelifts. Our ‘hypercognitive’ culture prioritizes brain function above all ….” All the information in our context bombards us, telling us our fears are valid.

Other natural concerns include loss, potential loneliness, alienation from society, and wondering which body part will give out next. We absolutely need hope. A hope that gives us a new perspective on aging that comes from faith in who God is and how he works in our lives. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). That promise was made to the people of Israel, but I believe it shows the nature of God and can be applied to us, even as we age. Ultimately that hope reaches to a time when we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Love: Love is primarily a present tense verb. For the here and now. Among the actual people we live with, worship with, and meet in the street. As faith moves forward in time to effect today and hope circles back to encourage us now, we become free to love. Love is an outward focus.

I’m thinking first of my husband. Neither of us are as “beautiful” as we used to, nor as energetic. We’ve grown used to each other. Yet I find, thanks be to God, that this is my easiest love-assignment. More now than when we were young. Just as I find it natural to love my grown kids, grandkids, and the greats.

It’s all the others I need help with. I’m thinking of the cranky lady who lives down the hall and always has something to complain about. I need help to listen with patience and try to see her as God sees her. I need help being kind to the grocery store clerk who’s had a hard day and treats me as a typical tiresome “old lady.” I need help respecting the doctor who tells me there’s nothing wrong; “It’s typical with people your age.” I need help loving certain political leaders in our country. I need help even praying for those I see as oppressing immigrants and minorities.

I need to more frequently sit in the presence of God and let faith and hope stir up love.

Faith and hope help me to love my aging self. I’m learning to look in the mirror and see white hair, wrinkles, and sagging muscles, then say, “Wow! What’s not to love?” I’ve learned an audacious prayer that goes, “Lord, help me accept the truth about myself, now matter how beautiful it is.”

The more I grow in my relationship with God, the more I can lean into the Great Commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

This is timeless. It doesn’t matter what age we are.

Faith, hope, love—but the greatest of these is love.

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