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.