Blame F. Scott Fitzgerald and my high school English teacher, but fall always feels like a fresh start to me. With a new school year and cooler weather, life really does start all over again when it gets crisp in the fall, as Jordan tells Daisy in The Great Gatsby. Against the backdrop of nature’s dormition, God invites us to expect a resurrection with the spring. Through the cycle of seasons, the Lord gives us a deeper understanding of the virtue of hope in action.
Like seeds sown in the fall, hope takes root in the “autumns” of our lives, the time between the planting of desires in our hearts and their fulfillment. Whether it’s the anticipation of meeting your future spouse, graduating cum laude and landing your dream job or seeing your sibling come back to their faith, the period of waiting before any realized hope creates a necessary space in our souls.
Without experiencing this kind of emptiness, we have no room to receive what God desires to grant us. Our Father does not just want to give us what we think we need; He wants to give us Himself. The soil of our souls must be plowed and broken up for the life of God to come in and grow.
The Mother of Jesus knew this emptiness in her virginity. By human means, her womb should have remained barren. Mary’s barrenness, however, allowed her to conceive the life of Christ and bear him to the world. By imitating Mary’s example, we learn to trust in the Lord’s design for the fulfillment of our hopes.
When our fields remain fruitless, however, we are tempted to abandon the seeds of hope that have yet to sprout. Mary was given not just the promise of Christ’s birth, but also that of his reign and kingdom without end (Luke 1:31-33). Mary’s “autumn” as she awaited Jesus’ public ministry to begin spanned 30 years and must have played out differently than she imagined. Bearing her Son in a stable and fleeing to Egypt to save His life were probably not ideas mapped out in her birth plan. Though she held Hope Himself, Mary’s experiences were not moments of constant reassurance.
Remaining steadfast in the face of desolation cultivates sincere hope. In the years before His public ministry, Mary did not grow anxious thinking she had misinterpreted the angel Gabriel’s message about Jesus nor did she allow her dreams for her Son to die. Though nothing miraculous occurred, the stillness of these ordinary days prepared her to act when the Lord brought about the time for Jesus to perform His first sign. Like Mary, we become more attuned to the movements of God when hope seems stalled.
After leaning into these seasons of stillness, we do begin to see to the budding fulfillment of our hopes like the first signs of spring. Starting with the Wedding at Cana, Mary witnessed the wonders of Christ’s work on earth. Yet, the miracles of the Gospel culminate in the crucifixion. Mary saw her hope bloom and die again with the drought and heat of summer.
We often glimpse hope without witnessing its fullness. A break-up, failed class or death of a loved one each echo a hope unmet. In her sorrow, Mary teaches us how to hold onto our hope. The emptiness of Mary’s outstretched arms as Christ was carried to the tomb allowed her to receive the greatest miracle her Son ever worked – the transformation of death as eternal damnation into the door of eternal life.
The dashed hopes that leave us longing make no sense outside the context of the Resurrection. With Mary as our guide, however, we can see that hope does not change with the seasons; rather, it grows while the earth sleeps and breaks through the barren lands of our hearts to blossom fully upon our entrance to heaven. Even after the Resurrection, Mary is again separated from her Son at His Ascension. Her hope is not fully realized until her Assumption when she falls asleep to awake with Christ in heaven.
Taking it back to high school English, we know that unlike the green light that teases Gatsby from Daisy’s dock across the water, our hope will not disappoint because it has grown the love of God in our hearts (Romans 5:5). The seasons of our lives will undoubtedly change, bringing with them moments of sorrow and joy. As we find our desires both met and unfulfilled, the Lord will cultivate and perfect our souls like Mary’s until we can receive the love that has awaited us for all of time.