Eeyore is the gray, gloomy donkey filled with sawdust in Winnie the Pooh stories. He is sensitive and intelligent but quiet and downcast most of the time. He is forever losing his tail. His favorite food is thistles, and his go-to phrase is, “Why bother?”
Eeyore hates being bounced, loves being remembered on his birthday and is always concerned that his house is falling down.
The theme song of the world’s Eeyores comes straight out the hick-and-hayseed television show, Hee Haw, from the 1970s. Roy Clark, Buck Owens, Grandpa Jones, Archie Campbell, Lulu Roman and Junior Samples, gathered in front of bales of hay, would sing their lament in the following ditty:
Gloom, Despair, and Agony on me
Deep dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, Despair and Agony on me
“Eeyores” view events around them with a down-turned mouth, a jaundiced, sour disposition and a hopeless outlook captured in the question, “Why bother?” Honestly, it’s more of a rhetorical statement than it is a question. Why bother of going to the effort of finding my tail if it’s only going to come off and get lost again before lunch? Why bother trying to fix the house when the next gust of wind will likely blow more tiles off the roof and loosen another section of guttering? Why bother putting energy and effort in becoming a better donkey when everyone knows I’m filled with sawdust? Why bother?
Is there hope for Eeyore?
The Word of the living God — the Bible — talks a lot about hope. For instance, a letter written to followers of Christ in Rome centuries ago includes this insight regarding hope: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24). Paul of Tarsus, the man who penned these words, inferred that the essence of hope is “not yet.” Something may be better someday but not yet. When the “not yet” materializes and is experienced, then hope is no longer necessary. Now hope that is seen is not hope. The person who places an order for an aroma diffuser on Amazon no longer hopes for it once the FedEx guy leaves it on the doorstep. Shortly after its arrival, it is removed from the cardboard box, plugged in and the soothing scent of lavender begins to waft through the bedroom. That which was hoped for has been delivered, and hope is no longer needed. The “not yet” has come.
Paul’s insights into hope encompass two essential dimensions: patience and pain.
If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. The discipline of persevering enlarges the capacity for hope. The metaphor of a pregnant woman who experiences birth pangs as she prepares to give birth to a baby serves as the context for the growth and enlargement of hope. Waiting not only enlarges her womb but also her hope. “Waiting does not diminish us any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.” The nine-month period of waiting for the arrival of a little girl or boy enlarges hope and burnishes the anticipation of what is to come as she decorates the nursery. Patience is a prerequisite for the maturity of hope.
The other essential, oddly enough, is pain. Almost counterintuitively, hope sprouts upward in the dark soil of groans and anguish. Centuries ago, Paul observed a pregnant creation. “The difficult times of pain throughout the world,” he wrote, “are simply birth pangs.” As he looked around, Paul observed that the created order of the natural world was experiencing painful birth contractions that would eventually yield something precious and invaluable, our full and final redemption. Current conditions are not permanent conditions. On the surface of it, the groans that emerge out of difficulty and pain are agonizing reverberations of the existential question, “How long, O Lord, how long?” But redemptive hope is trussed to trust. Trust in the grace, goodness and ultimate triumph of God guarantees that someday our hope will come to fruition.
There is hope for Eeyore, but it is not always “easy-peasy.” Hope can take root and flourish in difficult soil that is worked with a prevailing doggedness. For hope to do its best work and emerge tough, enduring and ennobling, it must be tethered to that which is lasting, transcendent and not subject to the conditions that demolish all else. In other words, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eeyore’s hope must be laser-focused on the living God — not stimulus checks, not re-opening schools and businesses, not more testing, not vaccines.
Eugene Peterson has paraphrased Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Colosse: “(May) the lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.” Hope’s “not yet” anchors purposefulness for men and women (and Eeyores) who entrust themselves to the living God, especially in the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Ed Rotz, former pastor and district superintendent in The Wesleyan Church, now works for PastorServe, Inc., a ministry that strengthens the Church by serving pastors. He and his wife, Sharon, live in Topeka, Kansas.