by Christine Sine
Last week I received a note from one of our readers telling me of her struggles with being overwhelmed at a world full of destruction and hate. How does a person actively live with hope in these days? She asked “If I shut off all media, I’m accused of burying my head in the sand; if I expose myself to the vitriol that is out there, I honestly just don’t want to get out of bed. “ She was writing to me because she felt that I seemed able to find a balance, to see beauty and live hopefully while still fighting back against the hard things. “How do you do this? Where does one start?” She asked.
As I pondered her questions I was reminded on an intern we had several years ago who decided to walk into Seattle from our place one day, photographing images of despair on the way in and images of hope on the way home. It was much easier for him to find images of despair he told me than to find ones of hope. Bad news travels faster than good we are frequently told, and it is true, we have to very intentionally hunt for the images of hope and good news . So where do I find the hope that helps me balance my concerns for the devastation of our world and horrors of war, starvation and abuse with my joy in beauty, goodness and hope?
To be honest I have not always been a hope filled person and sometimes I still find myself wallowing in despair. Today for example we celebrate the 22nd memorial of the 9/11 attack in New York, with the loss of 3,000 lives. Yet our violent responses to this terrorist attack have resulted in over 1 million deaths and we are no closer to finding peace than we were then. It is heartbreaking, and overwhelming but in spite of that, there are several tactics that can turn my emotions around and encourage me to respond with hope rather than make me want to give up.
First I look for hope in the scriptures. A couple of years ago when we had friends over for dinner, Tom asked me to write a prayer on hope for the evening. Hope, I thought, what is there to be hopefully about? So I went looking for hope. I did a search on biblegateway.com of the word hope. First I searched in the New International Version, then in the New Living Translation and finally in The Voice, all of which give different perspectives on the Bible. Some verses proclaimed where our hope lay – in the eternal God, in Christ our instructor, in God’s call to be a covenant family and to seek God’s eternal kingdom of love, peace, justice and compassion. Others described hope – never ending, ever present, never failing. By the time I finished my prayer I found that my own emotional state had changed completely. I regained my hope in God and God’s eternal purposes.
Second I reframe the question “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” Instead I ask “Where is God in the midst of this disaster?” Every time I hear about the risks that first responders put themselves at to fight wildfires, repair flood damage or search for people trapped after an earthquake I think “That is God at work” Knowing that strangers come from half a world away to help people in the midst of disasters is incredible. Seeing young people dedicate their lives to see our planet better cared for and people at the margins provided for, fills me with awe. These are signs of a God who cares and who has placed that caring ability deep within all of us.
Third I look for signs of hope in the world around me. Finding such signs is not always easy. It needs to be a very intentional actions the bad news hits us in the face every time we turn around. So we need to start with a trust in the God of hope, in the God who is in the process of making all things new.
Fourth I express my gratitude for the good things I see around me. Every time I express gratitude to someone or for something, I feel my spirit lift. One of my Sunday practices that I do while I journal is to remind myself of all that I have to be grateful for in the week that has passed. Writing these down is often very hope giving and always brings a smile to my face. Sometimes I am grateful for small things that almost went unnoticed at the time. Like the neighbor who always has a bag of treats ready to bless any dogs that walk by. At other times they are pillars in my life, like Tom’s love for me and the considerate things he does each day.
Sometimes my hope comes from walking round my garden admiring the beauty of the dahlias and other flowers that take my breath away as they seem to shimmer with the glory of God. At other times it is through looking for good news stories. Like the story of the Yambulla Project in Australia with its emphasis not just on restoring ecology but on finding ways share land use, benefiting many people, to sustainably co-exist and complement each other. It is becoming a place to trial new models for collaborative, productive and restorative land management practices that other landholders can adopt. I am also encouraged by the climate change court case won by young people in Montana, as well as by the growing number of Christian organizations run by young people that are concerned about climate change, homelessness and justice. These changes may seem like a drop in the bucket at times, but each drop does make a difference.
What I realized as I wrote the prayer above is that hope in God is not an ephemeral, intangible emotion that we can artificially conjure up. First it must be grounded in our trust in God and in what we believe about who God is. Second it must be put into action. The act of writing a prayer and then reciting it out loud with friends was a reviving experience but it is an act that must be followed by concrete action. So this week I am looking for ways to practice my hope in our community .
I also find it challenging to live in hope though, as so much of what I read is negative – climate change, hottest seasons on record, growing toxicity of our oceans and possible death of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia – all bring me to despair and make my heart ache. I feel so powerless, so inadequate and at times so hopeless. And the digital world doesn’t help. The stories of environmental degradation are rampant. Lakes drying up in Africa, the strongest hurricanes on record, bee collapse, drought across large stretches of Africa, the list goes on – destructiveness not creativeness is highlighted. So my question for all of us today is: Do we have the courage to participate in Jesus’ mission and make his message of hope concrete and tangible in a world where inequality, injustice, and hate seem to reign? How do we intend to practice the kind of hope ohat is Your Response?
What gives you hope at this season of your life, not just for yourself and your family but for the whole planet? Take a few moments to look around. Think of the little things in your family, your home, your neighbourhood that give you hope. Take some photos, make a list, give thanks to God. Now think of our planet. What gives you hope and encourages you to believe that God is not only in control but is slowly making all things new?
God still has hidden secrets of hope in so many parts of our world and we all have the opportunity to become a part of God’s creative activity contributing to that hope. I think this is what we should focus our attention on rather than the negative things that give us despair. Yes we need to know about climate change and environmental degradation, but more as a stimulus for change.
Another amazing thing that gives me hope is the growth of the community garden movement. Several years ago, as this movement started to sweep through our world, I asked the question Is this a move of God? The pandemic gave fuel to this movement and I am more convinced than ever that it is and the creativity that has become such an important part of it is even more a move of God. This movement gives me hope because everyone can do something. Little things like planting a few tomato plants in your front garden like a lot of Seattlites do can make a difference. Participating in CSAs or volunteering at your local community garden can be of even greater value. It should give all of us hope that we can make a difference and bring some of God’s newness and wholeness into this world.
Even airports can make a difference.. Watch the video below. In what ways does it inspire you to become a part of God’s creativity and desire for a world made new? What is one step that you could take that would not only inspire hope in yourself but in others as well?
Join Christine Sine on October 14 or watch the recording later. October and November, the season between Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving, is gratitude season on Godspacelight. Christine Sine will encourage you to enter into the practice of gratitude in this interactive retreat that will help us enter this season of gratitude with joy and delight in our hearts.