We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. We feel overwhelmed, downhearted, or disconnected. Our personal failures are blinding, and our optimism is sucked from us by the selfishness and hatred of others. All news seems to be bad news. If you are even slightly engaged with current events, you’ve probably felt at least a hint of this recently. I have. Over the past few months, mail bombs were sent to politicians and a man killed innocent people worshipping at their synagogue. Ten minutes from my home, a teacher killed his wife and then himself. In northern Indiana, three young siblings were run over at a bus stop.
Rising suicide rates and drug overdoses make it easy to conclude that our society is a mess. But those are just the big news stories.
Each day, I hear the personal stories of poverty, abuse, and loneliness that don’t make headlines. As a healthcare professional working with those affected by obesity, I hear about the cruelty and dismissiveness of judgmental people. If you have severe obesity, you know what I’m talking about. Our world is broken and it’s full of broken people. Social media magnifies our personal and societal brokenness and political discourse is often a laxative for the darkest part of our souls. So why not just relent, give up on mankind, be hardened to the point of paranoid self protection? Why not seek revenge dressed in the clothes of justice?
One part of me hopes you can’t relate to any of these feelings. Another part of me is concerned about you if you can’t. One way to avoid these feelings is to ignore what’s going on around you. Immersing yourself in pleasure, consumerism, or self-medication can do the trick--for awhile. We can also make some changes to what we watch, who we listen to, and who we follow on Twitter. But ultimately, we face the challenge of existing in the yuck of our humanness. We can do so pessimistically and perpetually annoyed, or as hopeful agents for change. Sure, anger can spur us into action, but chronic negativity will cripple us from the inside out. So how can we be hopeful while living in and trying to change the world we live in?
Hope is the belief that something good will happen in our lives. But it’s more than a fleeting thought about the possibility of good, it’s a confidence that penetrates our emotional well-being. Hope is most sustainable when we have evidence or experience to support our beliefs and feelings. If you are feeling defeated, think a moment about hope; write down your ideas.
Accept that Hope is for Everyone
I’m sure you’d agree that hope is powerful--but it’s often elusive. Hope is available to everyone, no matter our situation. It looks beyond our current situation into what can be. It rests in the principle that suffering is not the end point of an experience. Our difficult experiences create a unique potential to live life differently than before. Even as I write this, I think of how challenging this perspective must be for the parents of the children recently killed when boarding their school bus. But hope is not happiness and it can exist in the midst of grief. Growing pains can sometimes feel like torture, but you aren’t a prisoner.
Realize We Need Each Other
If you are feeling hopeless, who speaks wisdom into your life? Who will love you unconditionally? Connect with them. If these questions leave you without an answer, seek out the people who can help you. Talk to your neighbor, ask a pastor, schedule an appointment with a therapist. Volunteer to help others in need or at your local preschool--children exude hope and make us smile.
If you are full of hope, help others. You may need someone to return the favor someday. Hope is communicated in many different ways. Any expression of love is generally a good place to start—a kind word, patient listening, a hug, or a handshake. We can all do that. Invite people to spend time with you—we need each other and caring for each other is what we were created to do.
It’s hard for me to think of hope separated from the concept of love. And when I think of where love comes from, the mysteries of God fill my mind. In a recent message, my pastor, Dave Rodriguez, explained how our faith and hope work together to build trust—trust that things will be okay in our life. I will summarize my perspective with his words.
Hope is not something that you generate in yourself. Hope has to be given to you. Hope has to be done for you. Hope is the intervention of something or someone when you are at your wits end...You cannot do the hard thing in your life without both faith and hope...The times we have the least hope is when we need to pay attention the most—that’s when God visits us.