What is Hope?

Monday, June 02, 2014 @ 11:06 AM

What is hope? Is it a feeling? An action? An attitude? A belief? Is hope a choice? Is hope learned? Is it a human virtue? Is hope personal? Is it relational? The answer is YES! Hope is all these things and more. Hope is an emotion associated with a firm expectation that there will be a positive and meaningful future outcome.

Sometimes hope comes easily. We see hope dancing in the eyes of parents as they gaze into the sweet face of their precious newborn infant. Hope beams in the smiles of college graduates as they set off to start their new careers, advance their education, or enter military service.

But in the midst of many other life circumstances, hope seems elusive. How do we keep from sinking into hopelessness in the face of human suffering and tragedy? How can a middle-aged woman find hope as she faces unwanted divorce? How can the father of three children keep his hope alive as he deals with longterm unemployment and mortgage foreclosure? Where is hope for the teen girl struggling with low self-esteem and an eating disorder? Where is hope when cancer or other serious illness comes?

Let's consider a few Biblical characters who persevered in hope when hope seemed lost. A prime example is Abraham. God promised him that he and his wife, Sarah, would have a child together. But by the time Abraham had reached the advanced age of 100, Sarah, who was age 90, had not yet delivered this child. (Genesis 17:17-19) We are told that Abraham chose to hope "against all hope" that the Lord would fulfill His promise. (Romans 4:18) When we "hope against hope" we make a choice to believe a desired outcome will yet be fulfilled, even when there is no apparent reason to keep hoping. Abraham hoped. He waited patiently. And Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Sometimes hope in God opens the door to new life.

Many times there is no immediate solution to our difficulties, and the outcome looks different than we first envisioned. Between 607-586 BC, the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Babylon. There was no immediate resolution to their displacement and humiliation. Destined to be in captivity for up to 70 years, some died before they were freed. In this context, God promised them,"... I know the plans I have for you,... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) Hoping in God's promise, they retained a confident expectation that God was with them and still had a purpose and a positive future for them as a people. This hope wasn't only for the future. It was also for today --- that in the present, God was growing them and drawing them to Himself in meaningful ways. Hope gave them assurance in the present that helped them see beyond present circumstances. Eventually, the exiles returned home. As a community, they linked their hope to action as they rebuilt Jerusalem and their lives.

Given these examples, what do we learn that will help us have hope in the dark and lonely times of life? 1) Choose hope daily, so that it becomes a habit. We can choose to hope even as we cry tears of grief. 2) With patience, hope in God, not in uncertain circumstances. As written in Psalm 147:11, we can "hope in His unfailing love." 3) Be open to a shift in perspective: Our original path or goal might need to shift as we coordinate our life journey with God's plans for us. Perhaps there are possibilies we haven't considered or strengths we possess that need more development. We might also benefit from reassessing what is truly meaningful. Often it helps to look beyond the hardships happening to us to the growth happening within us. 4) Link hope to constructive action: Ask for expert advice or connect with a supportive community. Prayer is action and is one of the most powerful things we can do.

Research indicates that hope is an essential component of effective counseling. Clients want to work with a counselor who hears them, offers a fresh perspective, is present with them in their pain, and who helps them find their own reasons to hope. If you are discouraged, feeling stuck, and need a safe place to work through your concerns, I invite you to meet with me. Let's discuss ways you can move forward with hope.

References:

Larsen, D. J. & Stege, R. (2012). Client Accounts of Hope in Early Counseling Sessions: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90, 45-54.

The Holy Bible, New International Version, (1984). Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids, MI.