Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)

During Christmas, “hope” is a very popular word. Whimsical signs with elegant lettering spell it out across hallways and front doors. People sprinkle it around like confetti at a surprise party. Throughout this magical season, all you have to do is hope, they say, and everything will turn out all right.

We all hope for things. We hope that the car repair isn’t too expensive. We hope our team wins on Sunday. We hope that the sippy cup that’s been under the couch for a week contains water and not a stinky, solid mass that used to be milk.

We also hope that broken marriages get mended, that test results come back negative, and that wayward kids find their way back home.

But everyone who has ever hoped for anything—from the five-year-old child who never gets that Thomas the Train set because it’s been recalled to the woman with the empty womb who’s tried everything—knows that in this life, hoping, even praying, doesn’t guarantee anything. God does not promise us financial security, health, children, spouses, or sunshine on our wedding day. We are not wrong to hope for these things, because we were created to enjoy them, but this kind of hope is not the kind we can cling to as our unshakable reality during stormy, uncertain times.

So if being a child of God and loving Jesus gives me no guarantee of all the things I want or feel like I need, then what can I count on? In my head, I know the answer is “Jesus,” but my heart struggles to understand this.

I think one of the challenges of having known Jesus since childhood is that I often do not have the perspective of living life without Him. I am missing the desperation that can only come from having to make one’s way in the world alone. In short, I take Jesus for granted. And at times of the year like this, it’s important for me to examine what it means to have Him in my life.

To do this, I must set aside all of the earthly blessings He has afforded me. I accept those blessings and am grateful for them, but that is not what it really means to have Jesus. To me, having Jesus means I have the hope that my meandering, falling-down life has a meaning and a purpose. I never walk alone. I have hope that all the tears I’ve cried matter to someone and are all part of a good plan. I don’t have to have it all together; there is grace and forgiveness and mercy for a screw-up like me.

I’ve been tempted to give up hope. Hope that God was real and that His promises were true. Hope that I would ever feel truly loved. Hope that I would ever change. As I have stood in that place, it seemed like I was looking into a roaring abyss, one ready to pull me in and swallow me under. At those times, I realize what it must be like to live without the comforting knowledge and presence of Jesus, to stare at the expanse of this life and the next with no hope to light the way, only soul-sucking darkness.

I am gripped with the truth that the hope I possess is the greatest gift. God is real. His Word is truth. He loves me and takes great delight in my existence, so He will never leave me or give up on me. I am lifted up beyond my circumstances when I realize I am not facing them alone. Because of Jesus’ gift of Himself at Advent, I have the hope of His presence both now and forever.

Lord Jesus, I want the center of my hopes to be pinned on the reality of your love for me. I know you will always make good on your Word.

In what ways has God shown you His faithfulness over the last year?