St. Paul tells Christ’s followers in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that three things will last forever: faith, hope, and love. When teaching children about the spiritual gifts, there are many opportunities for us to explain and demonstrate faith – through liturgy, scripture, icons, music, and the many beautiful signs and symbols that help us on our spiritual journey. Love, too, is easy to explain and demonstrate. Children experience the love of their parents and relatives, and they easily express love for one another. Hope, on the other end is a bit more elusive. It is common for people to lose hope when things don’t go as planned, if we are asked to be patient, or if the answer is no. If we have to sustain hope for a day, a week, a year, or longer, it is likely that we may give up or give in. That is why, I suspect, God challenges us and gives us opportunities to practice.
James Stockdale, as I’m sure some of you might remember, was a Vice-Presidential candidate in 1992, running with Ross Perot on the Independent ticket. Before that, however, he was a United States Navy Vice Admiral and aviator. In 1965, his jet was shot down over North Vietnam. He was brutally beaten and held captive for over seven years in a Prisoner of War camp. He was eventually released, and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Years later, James Collins, in his book Good to Great, tells Stockdale’s story and how he prevailed. According to the POW, “I never doubted that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life.” Stockdale also shared, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” This is the ultimate example of courage, faith, and hope, and it is known as the Stockdale Paradox.
Most of us had been accustomed to and expected instant gratification in nearly all aspects of our lives. Our busy schedules did not allow for delays, and media barraged us with everything we were supposed to want and have. Through this pandemic, however brutal and uncomfortable it has been, God has helped us to practice the gift of hope. Instead of planning our next vacation or our next major purchase, we instead hope that our families will be healthy; we hope that there will be a vaccine soon; and we hope we can, one day, hug our friends and family, and share our smiles without facemasks. We pray, while we hope, that God will watch over us and will help us to sustain our hope, without becoming bitter or angry. We hope the Lord will renew our strength so that we may soar like the eagle, and not grow weary as we wait, however long that may be.