Linda Martindale asked some of her colleagues what helps them keep hope alive, and shares some of her own thoughts on how she has kept hope alive in her life, and when she had none, how others did it for her.
‘It’s a cruel, crazy beautiful world,” sang Johnny Clegg, a good summary from a musical icon in this song dedicated to his son when he was a baby. This cruel, crazy beautiful world has become smaller in many ways, as we now know more than just what our own community is facing, thanks to the internet and technology that connects us to the globe. I am convinced that humans were not designed to know every evil under the sun, all the atrocities, trauma and suffering of this broken world, and still cope well and keep mental resilience and compassionate hearts. It requires discipline, intentionality and a God-breathed perspective. How do we keep hope in the midst of the broken world?
I have learned through discussions at The Warehouse and in Micah Global circles, personal experience and listening to people I respect, that hope and optimism are not one and the same thing. Optimism is a mind-set that it will all work out okay that often comes with a healthy dose of denialism. But hope points to a deeper posture. Hope is more than optimism; it takes into account the pain and brokenness of the world – it is gritty and action based. It is not a weak idea or just a feeling, but a combined movement towards something transformative. Rebecca Solnit says it so well in her book, Hope in the Dark:
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”
I love the idea of hope being giving ourselves to the future – and the dreams we have of what God’s kingdom ‘come on earth as it is in heaven’ looks like. I love the idea of being fully present today, and yet being committed to living lives that impact on tomorrow in ways that change the current structures that benefit some at the cost of others, and will make burdens lighter and lives more abundant, and full of hope.
Whilst there is no ‘quick fix’ or spiritual ten steps to finding hope, or faith, or love, there are some things that may help us keep hope in a world that bombards us with hopelessness.
- Nurture mental strength and discipline: Guard your mind and protect it from constant negativity and the influence of people to whom hope is not something worth seeking. I take ‘bad news’ breaks where I go offline, don’t listen to the news for a day, and re-centre myself. I am a news junkie, so the news is something I love and then also need to escape from when it gets too much, and that takes discipline. I also have to take captive thoughts that are leading me to despair and am learning to do that better.
- Gather and mobilise others: If you feel hopeless about an issue, think about how you can make a difference in that area. Craig Stewart speaks of turning a private concern into public action by sharing what is on your heart with others, and seeing who else is concerned about the same issues in your community. (We run Transformational Advocacy workshops in churches and small groups if you would like to explore this idea more.)
- Find and share stories of hope. Be someone who admits the hard and harsh realities of the broken world in which we live, but who sees the good and the stories of people in the most evil of spaces who are holding up and standing up and showing up. Colleen Saunders, who works in trauma and resilience, said one thing that helps her remain hopeful in the midst of so much suffering, is to listen to people’s testimonies of how God brought them through terrible situations, spending time with people in places of pain and hearing their stories of God and miracles and hope. Read what she writes about hope and her Sinoxolo work here.
- Invest money and time: Give intentionally and deliberately of your time and money and resources into the areas that most reach your heart or where your greatest concern is. If you are most concerned about education, find a group with whom you can work or invest your time and money, such as BottomUp or Outliers, for example.
- Seek life: René August said that one of the things she does is: “I make sure I ask people what the most life giving part of their day is or was when I meet up with friends or family or colleagues.” Or, “Where did you see signs of the kindom today?” and “What are you most grateful for today?” She said that these answers give her the opportunity to see the country and hear things from someone else’s perspective, and that generally keeps her full of hope.
- Pray: Most people I asked mentioned prayer as one of the things that keeps hope alive. Prophetic and imaginative prayer pictures things as they can be, as we ask for them to become a reality. Wendy Lewin said that what helps her is the practice of examen – a daily discipline of reviewing the day. “Becoming aware of where I have seen God at work in the small things and realising that if that is what has been going on in the small things I have noticed, how much more has the Holy Spirit been working worldwide through all the people who are living and loving. I use those small things as ‘seeds’ for intercession for wider and deeper transformation.”
- Speak up: Strengthen your voice and speak the truth in love … “Speak up, even if your voice shakes …” – if we hope for a better world and for restoration, we will find hope in being a part of making it how we would dream it to be, and this requires finding and using our voice in more courageous ways.
- Reflect on Integrity: I have a card on my desk that says, “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy, and choosing to practise our values rather than simply professing them.” The word integrity comes from ‘integrated’ – sometimes I become aware of places and parts of my life that are not congruent with what I say or believe, and somehow, aligning myself to the values and things I know are right, gives me hope for a better world, that starts with me.
- Be grateful: Live a life of gratitude. Two of my colleagues said that something that keeps hope alive in their hearts in the midst of knowing much pain and suffering, is in their choosing to live a life of gratitude, seeing and being thankful for the goodness.
- Lean into community: Be honest with friends you can trust. I went through a season that was extremely difficult some years ago – I called it ‘The Big Crumble” – hope was nowhere to be found. I had lost what felt like my faith, and had no hope for myself or others. I continued to meet with two friends who I called my ‘lifeboats” and when I had no hope myself, they held out hope for me and with me. They read a book to me that I could not read myself – and summarised it for me as I had no interest. They were my lifeboats who got me through a season when I felt I was drowning. None of us can walk this life alone – and being honest and vulnerable (to the right people) can literally be the hope that pulls one through. I told a beloved one recently that “I will hold out hope for you, until you have hope again.”
- Keep the Sabbath and rest: Breath in and out … keep healthy rhythms. Taking time to rest and recharge, is what keeps me hopeful and hope-filled. I know when I have not been taking that time away from the news, social media, people, ministry, work – it helps me face my ‘God complex’ that I have to keep going in order for the world to keep turning … and it subverts the lies that we are sold that run us empty and dry, that we are not enough, and must do more, be more, give more. Click here for some deeper reflections on that. (https://www.redletterchristians.org/prayer-action-like-breathing/)
- Seek fun (and the funny): Wayne Eaves spoke with me about the role of clowns in life and how they remind us of the absurdity of power, and that we all need a good laugh, and a dose of humility that comes with realising we sometimes take ourselves too seriously and miss out on the fun and laughter of being part of this beautiful world, in all its brokenness, and the awesome love revolution that we are invited into. Again, Rebecca Solnit nails it: “Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection.”
While writing this I realised just how much wisdom there is and different ideas from various people … these are just a few of the ones I captured from my colleagues and my experience. Feel free to tell us how you keep hope so that we can share that with others in our next newsletter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. And now, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
By Linda Martindale