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What is “hope”? The best definition I’ve ever heard for hope was when someone said it like this: “hope is a positive view of the future”. When we think the next year, month, week, or day will be bad, it’s hard to be motivated and we slip into fear. Being afraid begins to feel more real than anything, and “hope” becomes a nuisance of a word; a word only used if people don’t understand how bleak our situation is. “They just don’t get it,” we may think. “They just don’t understand our hopeless situation.”
Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound. (Proverbs 25:20 NLT)
There’s nothing more stuck than a hopeless situation. Even in writing this my chest feels tight and my heart feels heavy, as my body undergoes the physical signs of thinking about hopelessness. Although it’s true feeling stuck stresses the body, it is also true that cheerful thinking will likely annoy someone having a difficult time. Helplessness may be at the root of anxiety, but it is hopelessness that is found at the root of depression. And depression seeks to take us out. Who would feel any sense of motivation without a positive view of the immediate future, or positive view of any future? So perhaps a more helpful question is considering whether we are truly in a hopeless situation. Consider the lily. This is an extraordinarily beautiful flower, the fourth most popular flower in the world out of millions of floral species. Lilies can grow even after cut off or can strangely grow in the desert. In a seemingly unproductive and desolate environment, a seemingly hopeless situation, you can find the desert lily cutting through what appears as hopeless terrain and beautifying the scene around it.
There are two wolves always at battle. One is full of darkness and doubt, the other is full of light and hope. Whichever you feed is the wolf who wins. (Cherokee Legend)
There is a Proverb that says “Good news from far away is like cold water to the thirsty”. Have you ever needed a drink? Well hopefully here is some refreshment. The good news is as long as there is life there is hope . Everything we do, we do because we hope it’ll work out. We may not be able to control our situations but there are things we can do to access real concrete hope.
- Consider your available options. If we focus on what we can’t do then what we can’t do gets bigger than what we can. This is because what we focus on gets bigger. It’s like the Cherokee legend of two wolves. “Can’ts” have no power over “cans” when we feed what we can. Nothing lasts forever, including hard times. “This too shall pass.” If we focus on the things we cannot do then we miss out on taking advantage of the things we can do. We exist through what we go through either way, so it’s our choice to merely survive or to make the best of what we can. We prepare the self to win on the other side of a dark situation when we consider what we can do. We may not be able to meet every need and desire, but if we only look at the needs we can meet, we can make it to fight another day.
- Feel your feelings and discipline your thoughts. We tell ourselves bad situations “feel like forever”. This however is a thought, not a feeling, fact, or emotion. Feel the sadness, despair, and being heartbroken. Our feelings are very important and should not be avoided nor negated. When we allow ourselves to experience our bad feelings we become less afraid of them and are also able to experience the fullness of our good feelings too. We live a full life experiencing our highs and lows instead of a frustrating one attempting to force ourselves to feel a way. Our thought life is the thing to be managed, and our feelings will likely adjust accordingly. There are counselors, therapists, ministers, and others who can help us sort through these things thoroughly so we do not have to manage without any guidance. When everything appears foggy we can think an impossible fog has fallen on us or we can repair the lens we are seeing through. It can be hard to do this for our own selves and it’s okay if we need to turn to a trusted source for help.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Misery likes company and we can easily find ourselves handing out invitations to our pity party, or accepting others invitations to theirs. Both good and bad feelings are contagious. If we can silence the negative voices in our heads, unfollow the hopeless posts on social media, or reduce and/or eliminate the continuous bad news from our constant attention, we may find ourselves in a lifted head space just by reclaiming it. Hopelessness itself is not a thing, but the absence of a thing, hope. So without negative distractions we are left with something real, hope, light, and peace. Consistently surrounding yourself among the hopeful will influence you to join them just as surrounding yourself among the hopeless reinforces this state of mind.
- Turning to your faith. Many times we know what to do but we don’t have the strength or motivation to do it. For people, this is normal. Our moods change, our goals change, our opinions, thoughts, and attention all change. This is where the grace of God turns things around. We may get burned out, but God does not. He doesn’t tire, he doesn’t change, and he never fails. We can expect that he will get us through, even if he has to carry us. All we must do is ask him for his grace and believe he will give it to us because he said he would. Committing to the belief of trusting God gives us an unmovable solid foundation to base our choices, thoughts, and actions.
- Do for others. The thing about fear is it’s a dangerously selfish emotion. Fear cares only about itself and what it is afraid of. Hopelessness cares only for the less-ness of hope. One incredible remedy is to help other people. When we busy ourselves with giving our time, resources, and/or skills we have less time to concern ourselves with despair. We allow ourselves to base our choices on what we hope for instead of what we are afraid of. We also look outside ourselves to see the need of someone else. This is both fulfilling and hope boosting.
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin… (Luke 12:27)
Having a negative view of the future causes us to be afraid and feel stuck. Hopelessness is a paralyzing feeling. Faith believes, but hope causes movement. Hope must be real in order to move us, and surely enough there are some definitive things we can do to seek out “the light at the end of the tunnel that’s not an oncoming train (Dave Ramsey)”. You can consider available options, feel your feelings and discipline your thoughts, surround yourself with positive people, turn to faith, and do for others. Consider the lily, it grows in places no one would believe it could. If it’s just a wild flower with incredible limitations then I wonder what we can do when we choose to hope.
by Brittany M. Black, M.S., LMFT
photo cred. ~ Jordan Whitt (@jwwhitt)