Sarah Monson is a photographer located in Madison, Wisconsin. A young creative, she has a passion for using art and media to share God’s story of redemption with the Church.
On the inside cover of my journal, there’s a space to write a word. A word to meditate and think on, creating a framework for the upcoming pages and days. January 1, I wrote ‘hopeful.’ It’s a characteristic I find beautiful and admirable. If I’m honest, it isn’t something that has always defined me. Sure I may be hopeful from time to time, but am I hopeful? This word was important to me because there are certain things I’m hoping for this year. It’s also something I want to become. Seven months in, 2020 has been quite the year for our nation. And yet, God has used that single word from January to create the framework that has been teaching me through every disappointment and unexpected moment.
January 18, I was supposed to go on vacation. But then again, my dad wasn’t supposed to get sick three days earlier. Two weeks later my nephew was born two months early, and a month later, my state shut down due to a global pandemic. All of these ‘supposed to’s’ were taken for granted, gripped firmly in my fist and elevated high in my heart. I knew God was sovereign, but it’s easy to trust sovereignty when you don’t have to. With every perceived loss the sovereignty of God began descending from my head into my heart through practical and intimate experiences. This reminder came to me from the book of James at just the right time: “After all, come you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’’’ (James 4:13-15). For not only can God do all things, “No purpose of his can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). As 2020 continues, I know that all I was supposed to do and have yet to do, will be done by the grace and providence of God.
The looming loss of work, expectations, relationships, and life aren’t easy. This is why hope isn’t sustainable as something I can occasionally feel. It must be something I am made to be. Emotions have been taught and tension filled this year. Love and anger, rest and striving, disappointment and hope. But it wasn’t until the widespread destruction of cities, including my own this past month, that I recognized how society and sin have desensitized me. City shootings, COVID deaths, and racial tensions are commonplace on the news. I felt the conviction of passivity and callousness that has covered past evil. Lawlessness hit me like a child, I was sensitive all over again and had no words to express what I was feeling. All I could do was drink in the Psalmist’s words, “Trust him at all times, pouring my heart out before him” (Psa. 62:8).
It’s beyond my comprehension that God perfectly feels every emotion in its fullness at every moment. Jesus showed us how to display God’s heart in the physical world. He shouted, wept, rejoiced, loved, and mourned. Today, joy and love are more culturally acceptable than grief and lament. There have been many times where I’ve sensed deep emotions, but not the freedom to express them like he did. Away from social media where I’ve so often gone to find instant gratification and affirmation, I’ve learned how to lean into God’s heart and release my own. To hold not only my own hopes and dreams before him, but to mourn on behalf of those who mourn, being present in others pain and lamenting with the simple cry of, “Why?”
This year I have seen affliction more than before; and yet, Scriptures such as this one, have spoken to me more deeply than before: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him” (Lam. 3:22–24).
I still have hope for a home, a husband, and a handful of other good things. But God has used this year to gently take the physical objects of my hope and set them aside so I can more clearly see the eternal glory of Jesus. He has made me let go to learn how to rest on him and his promises. Because of this, “I can rejoice, too, when I run into problems and trials, for I know that they will help me develop endurance. And endurance will develop strength of character, and character strengthens my confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For I know how dearly God loves me, because he has given me the Holy Spirit to fill my heart with his love” (Rom. 5:3–5).
Halfway through what may be the most disappointing year of my life, I’ve been taught true hope. And it has not disappointed me.