Harboring Hope

“Hope inspires the good to reveal itself.” Emily Dickenson

If I were to create an image of hope I would picture it as the water wings children wear to keep afloat. I see young children swim across a pool with the aid of these inflatable arm bands. It is not the device that holds the beginning swimmer, it is the air inside. When the air is gone, the water wings are useless. Hope is like the air in the water wings. I can’t quite see it but I sure know when it’s not there.

Some days it feels like my water wings have a slow leak. I may start the day with a full tank of hope only to open the paper to a new tragedy or hear from a friend just diagnosed with a life threatening illness or feel burdened by a list of tasks long avoided. How do I plug the leak in my water wings before I drown in despair?

We have our own air pumps to refill our water wings. For me, the strengthening sun rays that melt winter’s snow pack breathe hope. Friends I can call to share my hurts, fears and sorrows refuel hope. Tackling a job I have long avoided builds hope.

According to Czech writer and philosopher, Vaclav Havel, “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world.” Even when the world looks lost and foreboding, I carry my own hope. I cannot rely on the world’s supply.

For many of us, the idea of hope sprang from our religious roots. It formed a triad with faith and love, flowing from a benevolent Power and a sense that we were neither alone nor in charge. While that sense of hope persists, like other virtues, hope is not only good for our soul but it is also good for our well being. Hope has been identified as a psychological trait that enhances our life satisfaction and can be measured and scaled.

Psychologist R.C.Snyder says hope is a function of struggle. He defines hope as a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful agency (goal-directed energy) and pathways (planning to meet goals). In other words, we carry hope when we recognize how we made it through past struggles and trust we can find a way to do it again.

Radio personality Krista Tippett, in her book Becoming Wise, says, “Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

Hope is not wishful thinking. I hear my Mother’s voice, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Wishful thinking lets us off the hook. Hope rolls up her sleeves. Wishing looks back. Hope looks forward. Wishing stands still. Hope takes the next step. Wishing pulls back. Hope leans in.

The gardener doesn’t wish for a warm winter and let things care for themselves. Rather, she plans for cold and prepares for winter’s harshness by covering delicate plants, wrapping young trees, mulching frozen ground to protect roots from the thaw-freeze cycle. Like the gardener, the person with hope knows there are difficult times ahead and builds her own resiliency. She knows she can withstand difficulties. She’s done it before. She will do it again.

Our great challenge to hope is cynicism. Cynicism is rampant in our electronic world. Somehow hope is accused of naïveté, while cynicism claims realism. Cynicism is a disposition of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions. It is an attitude of distrust that reaches into our politics and institutions. Hope, on the other hand is a disposition that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in our life or the world at large.

Each day I choose the disposition I carry. Some days it is tempting to be the cynic. The morning news brings stories of polarized responses to serious problems, denial of natural consequences and biting satire that erodes rules of decency. It is tempting to join “the world’s a mess, what’s the use” story, but hope is an inner strength and I cannot give it up to outer forces.

When I am tempted to veil myself in cynicism, I have two antidotes. The first is to get outside into nature. Here I get out of my head and into my body. The second antidote is gratitude where I get out of my head and into my heart. It is much more difficult to feed into cynicism when I see the beauty and rhythm of the natural world or remember how much I have to be grateful for.

Hope, like spring, persists through difficult times–not because it is easy–but because it must. The earth must burst forth with spring and even the harshest of circumstances will not crush it. So it is with hope. It cannot be snuffed out, even when all appears lost. With hope we stand in our own uncertainty and hold on.

Hope shoulders us through adversity. It doesn’t give up. It knows, in the end, that all will be well. It transports us, like a bridge, to whatever comes next. Hope is contagious, powerful and binds us together. Michelle Obama says, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”

Here are places I see hope. Teachers and students who return to school after two weeks of funerals for colleagues and friends. The mid-life woman who joins Toastmasters because she is ready to move beyond her immobilizing fear of public speaking. The husband who walks into his first Alanon meeting to look at his own part and not just his wife’s. The 17-year-old who goes to her first caucus. The 20-something who runs for city council. The retiree who converses with a circle of immigrants new to English.

Everyday I see rays of hope. Everyday the good reveals itself. Everyday I have another opportunity to lean into hope.


Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader in the Twin Cities. She can be reached at logsdon.marylou@gmail.com

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