Surviving with the right hope

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Until recently I had given little thought to the meaning and importance of the feeling of hope. Webster's Dictionary states hope is "a feeling that what is wanted will happen." After knowing and being aware of various people who were so depressed they either attempted and/or accomplished suicide, I contemplated what was lacking in people's lives, depriving them of joy and eager anticipation of good things to come. Since I surmised hope was the missing aspect, I decided to examine why hope was so crucial to survival.

I first considered my rising from bed each morning. There were certainly times when I had lacked the desire and energy to face the day. But that unrealized element called hope gave me courage to struggle sluggishly and sleepy-eyed to the side of the bed, rise to my feet and plunge into the day's activities. And I pondered that regardless of one's age, physical and mental condition or situation in life, one must possess an amount of hope to continue to exist.

I could be "hoping" for that first cup of coffee and a steaming hot bowl of oatmeal. Or hoping to attend an entertaining movie, receive a letter from a significant other, perform a job, or merely endure the day mentally and/or physically.

As I probed the importance of hope, I contemplated that anything achieved first required hope to fuel energy infusing the desire to accomplish activities.

There are many concepts like faith, hope, love, joy and peace in the Bible, but often I had only a vague idea of their meanings.

So I researched Scripture to find its perspective on hope. And I found Christians' hope is built on the words and actions of God because the promises of God have been found to be dependable.

"For thou, O Lord, art my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth." Psalm 71:5.

If one notices, in the Bible hope is never boring or passive. Rather it is dynamic, active and life-sustaining. Not being an escape from reality, it doesn't leave one idle, drifting or just rocking on the front porch. If it is based on God's promises, it gives energy.

Hope changes how we see ourselves, allowing us to see this life as only a temporary journey towards fulfilling our hope for the permanent destination -- making us heavenly minded rather than earthly minded. Matthew 6: 19-21 advises, "Do not lay up treasures on earth but lay up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys."

So I learned hope also affects what one does with one's life -- talents, time and treasures. It makes people see their possessions and talents being used for God.

Obviously, every person has crosses to bear. Many have lost loved ones. And others are physically and mentally incapacitated. Most humans have suffered feelings of rejection and/or uselessness, but hope offers rewards and blessings of joy and peace, discouraging desperation, when one's hope is in God. Hope brings strength and courage -- knowing "With God all things are possible" Matthew 19:26. But I believe the most comforting quality of hope is that it enables one to feel confident in the face of death. The faith we are merely leaving one world for a better one where we shall never again lose hope.

Although there are many apparent reasons why one should despair if one's hope is based on worldly things, if it is based on God, one needs to never feel despondent. Because one is certain that each day brings a new dawn of fresh possibilities. And one knows if God hasn't forsaken one thus far, he never shall. And I questioned -- on what was my hope based?

Ellen Shuck is director of religious education at St. Mary's Cathedral parish in Cape Girardeau.

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