Hoping When There Is No Hope

Ernest needs a place to live, but his lack of income, mental health issues, and past assault and battery charge are slamming doors in his face—despite the help of a well-connected friend who has journeyed with him for a long time. Elsa has been a nurse for several years but was recently dismissed because of coming to work in the morning having already consumed too much alcohol. Her family history is rife with alcoholism. On the international scene, living with the fear of again being exterminated makes completely untenable for Israelis the possibility of being subject to attacks by Palestinians. The oppression Palestinians endure is intense. Caring about such situations, how do we respond?

The world is full of seemingly hopeless situations. To live in despair is to make the world worse; yet to live with false hope can contribute to the existence of the problems or make them worse. How can we practice real hope that doesn’t deny reality?

To associate “hope” with my ability to fix things or with my wishes or expectations sets me up for trouble.   We need to have hope within a bigger picture, one even bigger than what we can see.

We can learn to look for signs of hope—indications that something greater than ourselves is at work. The very presence of caring, compassion, knowledge of the complexity of the situation, and support are gifts–things we can be thankful for. Gratitude feeds hope. And if we are looking, we may see things develop that we hadn’t imagined.

But when it seems that nothing offers hope, it matters to live holding the tensions and the pain without having to resolve any of the pieces, to have the courage to live anyway, as much as we can, in the manner we are called to. To love God and our neighbor; to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Living faithfully is to live in hope.

Queries:           

What is your experience of despair? Of hoping when there is not hope?

What about your faith provides a grounding for hope?

Prayer:

Remembering a particular seemingly hopeless situation, read and pray Psalm 13. Put it into your own words.

For further reflection:

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (See Romans 8: 24-25).

“Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers . . .” (See Psalm 37: 1-9)

Praying for Someone

My grandson Jack knocked out his one permanent upper-front tooth. His parents took him to the dentist, who attempted to re-set it. The expectation was that it would either reattach or be rejected. My heart was heavy with concern for him. I couldn’t help but hold him in prayer. I also asked friends to pray for him.

What was I doing? I prayed passionately, with lots of caring energy. And I specifically prayed for his tooth to reattach. As far as I know that is the best thing that could happen for him. The accident would be overcome and he would have less trauma to go through. Sometimes when people pray like this they are in effect trying to work magic—to manipulate God by saying the right words, praying hard enough, getting enough people to pray, or whatever it might take to get God to bring the healing they want.

As a chaplain in oncology I once had a patient who had been struggling with breast cancer for many years but whose body had had enough. Her family had prayed for her through the years, with many remissions. They couldn’t bear to have her die. They asked me to pray for her, hoping that my prayers would get God to let her live even if theirs weren’t getting that result. When she did die, they were in such despair that they gave up on God and left their church.

In order to avoid this pain, some people pray only for God’s will in the particular situation, believing that that is the right way to pray—to be suitably humble. Others simply don’t believe in an interventionist God, a God who cares and who impacts specific situations in human life.

I pray what is in my heart. God knows my heart; there is no point in trying to cover it up. I also know that there is a much larger picture that I cannot see or comprehend. I trust that God loves and wants good. And I let go the prayer. Such praying brings community, strengthens my ability for love and compassion, and keeps me honest and humble, attuned to mystery and paradox.

Queries:

What do you think about intercessory prayer? What is your experience?

If there is that of God in every person, how might that of God in you relate to praying for others?

Prayer:

Pray as you can, not as you can’t. Sometimes action is the prayer to choose.

For further reflection:

“I pray that . . . he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit . . .” (See Ephesians 3: 14-19).

“Praise the Lord . . . who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases . . .” (See Psalm 103: 1-6).