Today, I read the account of Jesus showing himself to Thomas for the first time after his resurrection. Initially, I began reading it the way I normally do, thinking of Thomas’ doubt only as a negative quality we should avoid. But not far into the reading, a switch flipped in my brain and I began to think of Thomas differently. I began to put myself in Thomas’ shoes.
After all, Thomas had just lost someone he loved to a horrible and violent death. He was, no doubt, in the throes of fresh and wild grief.
What if Thomas didn’t have a heart that was simply hardened by doubt? What if Thomas’ heart was simply so broken, that he couldn’t bear to hope that Jesus was alive unless he saw it for himself? What if Thomas’ heart was so broken, that hope was simply too painful an option? What if Jesus’ words that he would rise again in three days were bumping around the walls of Thomas’ mind, but he kept pushing them away thinking, “If I don’t hope for it, it can’t hurt me when it doesn’t happen.”
And Jesus, being the loving and compassionate God that he is, gave Thomas exactly what he needed, a personal encounter with his ALIVE Messiah. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.'” Jesus loved Thomas so much and knew that “by believing you may have life in His name,” so he met Thomas right where he was in his doubt and heartbreak and helped him believe.
I have been where Thomas was many times. After losing relationships with people I loved, or seeing dreams deferred over and over again – it has been so easy to want to hold my broken heart, safe in my own two hands, where even God cannot get to it and say, “I’ll believe God has good things for me when I see it. But until then, I won’t give him access to my heart or emotions – I’ll just pretend like I don’t have any. I won’t ask God for the things my heart desires, because then he can’t say no, and I can’t be disappointed.” All the while, my heart is slowly suffocating in the vice grip I have on it.
But then Jesus shows up for my doubting, sick heart, and gives me exactly what I need, a personal encounter with him. He reminds me that he created in me the desires and dreams I have for a purpose, for the good works he wants me to do. And even if I don’t understand the practical implications of those desires, I can still ask him for them like a kid making a Christmas list. I should still look up at him with starry eyes and dream big, believing that he will lead me and guide me to places where those desires are not only fulfilled but are doing the work he always planned for them to do.
Now, I don’t mean I believe that, because God gave me certain desires the only way he could still be good is if he fulfills those desires the way I think he should. Here’s what I think I mean, what I’m realizing about my dreams and desires. They are like arrows on road signs, trying to point me somewhere, to lead me to something good. But I get all messed up because I try to figure out the final destination of the arrows, and then place my hope in that destination. What I’m realizing is that I think my God-given desires and dreams actually have two purposes:
- They are arrows pointing me to Jesus – at the bottom of all of my desires, is the hope for wholeness. No one and nothing can make me whole except Jesus. So a relationship with him is what I need FIRST and the MOST. If I don’t have that, everything else will be all wonky.
- They are seeds that have to be grown by Jesus – I know that Jesus has specific things for me to do here on earth, but I just don’t know exactly what they are. I think the dreams and desires I have are mere seeds that will eventually grow into something beautiful. But just like seeds cannot decide what kind of plant they will become, and they cannot grow by themselves (they have to be tended by a gardener or, if they’re wild, by the water and soil and the wind and the sun), I cannot grow my own dreams and desires into the results I think they should yield, only Jesus can do that, because only Jesus knows exactly what the results should be.
So, while I let the arrows of my “hopes and dreams” point me to Jesus – even point me in a general direction for my life – ultimately, Jesus is the only one who knows the intended destination. Jesus is the one carving out the road ahead of me, and I must simply follow him.
And when my heart gets broken because my hope gets all twisted around and lands on something other than Jesus, it is not the moment to drop hope on the floor and leave it there. It is the moment to fiercely pick it back up and throw my hope onto the person of Jesus, onto my ALIVE Messiah, knowing that he will bind up my broken heart. It is the moment to believe that he is working, that he is tending those buried seeds and has beautiful LIFE in store for me if I believe him, “my Lord and my God!”
“Jesus said, ‘Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.'” John 21:31