Reclaim Hope

Painful events focus our attention on everything that is wrong in our lives. Those seeking to grow hope drive back the darkness by refocusing on worthwhile activities. After tragedy strikes, they work toward reinvented goals and focus on what they can do, not their limitations (even when all they can do is pray for others). They get busy living through work and service. Surprisingly by spending energy, they regain strength.

In a perfect world, humans worked. At creation, God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to keep it. Our first parents reflected God as they cared for each other and all God entrusted to them. Their work was a life-producing gift.

However, since humanity’s fall into sin the gift of work has been cursed. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it, all the days of your life…by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  Genesis 3:17-19

Under the curse, work is like silver. It remains precious, but it tarnishes quickly. When we forget work’s inherent value or its cursed condition, we tend to overwork or underwork to our own harm. This is especially true during seasons of suffering. Overworking contributes to living in denial. Underworking contributes to living in despair. But working rightly contributes to living with hope.

Our unique human ability for thoughtful work reflects God’s image — like the moon reflects the sun. When we work as God works, we shine brightly casting light into the darkness of our world. When our work is aligned to God’s will, the tides of suffering are bound. They are kept at bay and not permitted to flood us in despair.

For example, in the movie Shawshank Redemption, a banker named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is wrongly convicted for the murder of his adulterous wife and her lover. Andy is sentenced to two consecutive life terms at Shawshank, a notoriously brutal state penitentiary. He befriends Red (Morgan Freeman) who helps him to learn the ropes of his new life in prison.

Strangely, Andy possesses an immunity to the dehumanizing process of prison life; a devolution the inmates call being institutionalized. A fully institutionalized man surrenders all hope. Andy never becomes institutionalized.

Andy’s hope empowers him to overcome persistent and grievous injustices committed against him and then devote himself to improving the lives of his friends. He builds a library. He helps inmates get their high school diploma. He magically creates moments when the prison walls all but vanish in the eyes of his fellow inmates. At one point, he gains unauthorized access to the prison’s loudspeakers. He plays Mozart’s duet from Le nozze di Figaro to the whole prison compound.

“I tell you those voices soared, higher and further than anyone in a great place dares to dream.” Red, his friend says. “It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

Andy’s punishment is two weeks in solitary confinement. When he returns to the general population, his friends ask him if his stunt was worth the cost. Andy replies that it was the easiest time he ever did because the music helped him forget.

“Forget?” Red asks.

“Forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone. That there is something inside that they can’t get to. That they can’t touch. It’s yours.” Andy says.

“What are you talking about?” Red asks.

“Hope.” Andy says.

“Hope? Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Its got no use on the inside. You better get used to the idea.” Red says.

“Like Brooks did.” Andy quips.

Brooks Hatlen, their friend, had become “fully institutionalized”. He lost hope. When he was freed from prison, fear ruled him; so he hanged himself.

For Andy Dufresne everything came down to a choice. “Get busy living or get busy dying!” he said. He fought for hope with all his energy. In the end, Andy was vindicated in more ways than one! (It is a must see movie.)

Hope builders take responsibility for their choices. They know there are only two options — abstaining in despair means choosing death. So, they choose life and get busy living.

Realizing there is no middle ground is the first step out of the solitary confinement of helplessness. If you refuse to abstain in despair, and choose hope, your own prison walls will begin to disappear. Like Andy Dufresne you may even give others glimpses of hope beyond the stone wall of your present confinement.

So what will you choose?

May God give you the grace to reinvent your goals, get to work, and in so doing — rediscover hope.

Featured Picture Credits

Embrace Imperfect Community

Scholars call Genesis chapter one The Song of Creation. As God creates, He sings for joy. Like an artist who steps back to appreciate his work, God breaks out in poetry and at the end of each stanza (each day) he sings, “It is good!”

From the perspective of Genesis 2, the Song of Creation builds to a crescendo on the sixth day, after God creates Adam in His image; and then suddenly the song screeches to a halt. God yells, “It is not good!” God then, seemingly, walks off stage at the climax of the concert and takes the composer’s sheets with him. He scribbles new notes as the orchestra and audience wonder, “What’s wrong?”

What is so problematic that God interrupts the song of creation?

“It is not good for man to be alone.” God said. (Genesis 2:18) So, He created a friend for Adam, named Eve.

Why did Adam need a human friend so desperately? Adam had God at his side. Was God not enough? Sin had not yet entered the world, so it couldn’t have been that Adam needed support for difficult times.

By including a dramatic pause in The Song of Creation, God was making a dramatic point. He was saying that human friendship is not merely beneficial, but absolutely necessary. If humans are made in God’s image, and God is a community (Father, Son and Holy Spirit); then no one can be fully human outside community.

At creation, Adam and Eve delighted in perfect community — with each other and with God. There was no shame, no fear, no disappointment. There was only beautiful intimacy.

Since the fall, our ability to function in community has been severely damaged. Community works about as well as a smartphone with a cracked screen. It still functions but the image has been distorted. This can cause enough frustration to tempt us to go without. But that would mean losing something that still has value and functionality.

It may be frustrating to live in community but it is unbearable to live outside of it. We tend to lose our humanity when we are separated from others for too long. We may not bother to make the bed, get dressed or use utensils. Like a hermit, we’ll appear more beastly over time.

Unfortunately, living in community usually gets harder during seasons of suffering. Even the most extroverted among us are tempted to pull away from the very people we need. We can anticipate how a certain person (or group of people) will respond. Stepping into community, we become vulnerable and we actually don’t know what someone may say and do! Facing this unknown is exhausting and stressful. It just seems easier to hide away and avoid all potentially uncomfortable situations.

People are a mixed bag of treats — sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. Suffering amplifies that experience. When a friend anticipates our needs without making a fuss; it leaves an unforgettable savor, like grandma’s chicken soup. But when they forget about us (and say something hurtful); it is like food poisoning that turns our insides out. We would do anything to avoid a second incident.

During seasons of suffering, we long for real rest. We want to be understood and encouraged. We need people to weep with us — to share our pain because we can’t bear it alone. We cannot handle all our normal responsibilities and our suffering at the same time. We need help, but we don’t know how to ask for it. Managing help requires more forethought and energy than we can spare. We need people to jump in and simply do what needs to be done, without being asked. Unfortunately they don’t always know what to do. And, the average person relates awkwardly. They don’t know what to say, so they say nothing; or they say something stupid.

The bottom line is during your season of suffering you must offer forgiveness toward people offering imperfect help. Walking this path is not easy, but it is better than the alternative — going down the isolating path of resentment.

Thankfully we have a Savior who showed us the way forward.  He not only suffers with us but he also shows us how to embrace the imperfect help of others.

“Keep watch and pray.” Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. They tried to help but failed him miserably during his greatest hour of need.

Remember, you are not alone. Everyone must embrace the only type of community available to them — an imperfect one. While it may be tempting to go without it, you simply cannot afford it and maintain your humanity.  The community surrounding you may be damaged but it is still functional. So embrace it. And, who knows, it may pleasantly surprise you!

Featured Picture Credits (modified)