One of my goals for the Christmas break was to spend more time in reading, reflection, and prayer. The frenetic pace we keep makes it hard for me to find as much time as I’d like for quiet reflection and prayer.
Heading into the break, I felt that I needed more time to reflect on this journey that we began six months ago. Thankfully the break was restful and invigorating. I hope it was for you too.
Towards the end of the break I had one of those special experiences where it seems that God speaks so clearly to your mind it is as though you are having a chat over a cup of coffee. One morning as I was sitting quietly in reflection, thinking about the various challenges that lie before us, a verse emerged in my mind as clearly as though God had spoken it to me audibly.
“In [God’s] great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope” (I Peter 1:3)
I had not been reading I Peter. For several months now I’ve been reading Matthew, immersing myself again in the life and words of Jesus. I hadn’t been consciously thinking about the need for hope either. For the most part, I was thinking about the work of IWU and the awesome calling God has given Helen and me to serve as the presidential couple for this great community.
But as I sat quietly turning my thoughts over in God’s presence here was a truth breaking into my reverie like the first rays of the morning sun. The truth stole across my spirit, warming my heart.
I have given you new birth into a living hope – a living hope.
My soul’s hunger for hope seems strongest in those dark moments in the middle of the night when I wrestle with some question or challenge, when my mind will not settle and the dark fingers of fear encircle my heart. My brother calls these his “3:30 in the morning thoughts.”
Or sometimes after reading Facebook posts I feel the need for hope. Sometimes Facebook seems like a land populated by prophets of doom and purveyors of criticism. I hope against hope that what I read there really isn’t representative of the society in which we live.
It seems we have more information, and less wisdom, than any previous generation.
Activists of all kinds threaten to use the weapons of public censure, financial ruin, and legal constraint to force acceptance of their agenda.
We have more ways to communicate with each other than ever before. But it seems we have lost the art of open and honest discourse. Our communication only hardens our convictions. We have forgotten how to use genuine communication to forge bonds of respectful and magnanimous community among neighbors.
Meanwhile, long-standing fissures between races, religions, and political persuasions threaten to break into yawning chasms. We seem to have become a society adept at turning our differences into causes for resentment and hatred.
In this environment perhaps we need to throw open the windows of our hearts to the sweet breezes and life-giving rays of hope.
I was intrigued about this message of hope, so I went looking for more insight.
Charles Snyder was a clinical psychologist who helped to pioneer the field of positive psychology, specializing in the way that people experience hope. Here are some of the lessons he learned. (C. R. Snyder (2002) Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind, Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, 13:4, 249-275, DOI: 10.1207/S15327965PLI1304_01.)
Hope makes all of life better.
Hope seems to be one of life’s generative forces. “Higher hope,” says Snyder, “consistently is related to better outcomes in academics, athletics, physical health, psychological adjustment, and psychotherapy.”
Hope is an action, not an emotion.
Emotions may attend hope or despair. But hope is an action we take in the face of life’s challenges.
Hope has three parts.
First, hope has a goal, something out on the horizon to which we aspire, a circumstance of well-being that we desire, a vision of a better world.
Second, hope sees a pathway leading from our present circumstance to our desired goal.
Third, hope generates the willpower to take the pathway, to surmount the obstacles that stand in the way of our desired goal.
Optimism believes the future will be better than the present. Hope goes to work to make it so.
Hope is nurtured in community.
We learn worthy goals by listening to the wisdom of our community. We see which pathways lead to genuine well-being by following the guidance of trusted advisors. We find the will to travel our pathways of hope from the encouragement of those who love us.
Snyder found that “children who are raised in an environment that lacks boundaries, consistency, and support are at risk for not learning hopeful thinking.” These features of healthy community teach us to live hopefully.
The lives of hopeful persons are “flavored with friendliness, happiness, and confidence.” Conversely, low-hope persons frequently draw from “reservoirs of negative and passive feelings.”
As followers of Jesus, are we just another interest group, pressing our claims on our neighbors?
You have been born again into a living hope – a living hope.
This is my aspiration for myself and for our IWU community this year. I pray that in this fascinating, inspiring, confusing, and sometimes heartbreaking world, we will be the people of a living hope, spreading the sweet breezes and heartwarming rays of the living hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.