September 3, 2022

Helpful, Healing Hope

Circumstances can force us to our knees, but sometimes that’s the best posture in which to grow and sustain hope.

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Q: Everybody is encouraging me: “Have hope; don’t give up.” With two strokes, complicated diabetes, and recently diagnosed cancer, how can I have hope? What good is hope, anyway? 

A: “Hope” has various meanings, but from your question, it seems that Merriam-Webster describes best what you mean: “a desire with the expectation and anticipation that that desire will be fulfilled.” You appear to doubt that your “tomorrow” can be better than “today,” and that there’s no realistic path to a good outcome.

Your feelings of despondency and helplessness are real and understandable; it takes emotional strength to be hopeful and optimistic in situations like yours. But as elusive as hope may seem, cultivating hope is possible. Circumstances can force us to our knees, but sometimes that is the best posture in which to grow and sustain hope. Scientific studies have shown that hope reduces pain; decreases helplessness, anxiety, and depression; and increases well-being.1 Hope affects every aspect of life. 

We’ve worked with patients who, in situations like yours, chose to proactively help neighbors, relatives, and friends who were facing significant challenges. Their own moods improved, their optimism and hope grew, and they described feeling “unstuck” from the track of despair and hopelessness. Also, many of our patients do what the research suggests in order to foster hope: they practice gratitude. Every evening they write down five things they’re thankful for. Studies show that by expressing gratitude, we become more compassionate, happy, and hopeful.2 

Here are some ideas that may help:

• Reject the notion that there’s no hope or future for you. While you have breath, you are still able to be used by God for good!

• Reexamine your situation prayerfully and count your blessings.

• Regard gratefully what you can be thankful for; make a list every day.

• Reflect on what’s truly important in your life. Heal broken relationships, make new friends, and come to know God more intimately.

• Reframe your situation realistically, focusing on what you still have, what is still possible, and what you still can do rather than on what you’ve lost and the possible obstacles ahead.

• Refine your expectations; set new goals.

• Redefine how you see success, based on the above.

• Repeat God’s promises and meditate on His Word.

• Remain anchored spiritually.

• Respond to God’s invitation to let Him be the author of the rest-of-your-life script.

• Rejoice in the Lord always—HE is our HOPE!

• Rejoice—God is faithful! We believe that being hopeful is an intentional, cultivated act, not an instinctive response. We pray that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace, so you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 15:13). 

1 R. K. Rajandram et al., in BMC Research Notes 4 (Nov. 28, 2011): 519. 

2 Charlotte vanOyen et al., The Journal of Positive Psychology 14, no. 3 (2019): 271-282.