“To exist in a hellish state is to be denied forever the promise of hope, of redemption, of love. To those who have been forsaken, hell has no geography.” -John Connolly
“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
I’ve been trying for months now to write about hope. I’ve spent several ink cartridges, crumpled countless sheets of yellow paper as I work through drafts, and have continuously found myself coming short of the mark; without a whole lot of clarity as to what the mark was to begin with. It strikes me that this difficulty in writing about hope mirrors the difficulty I’ve had holding on to hope in my own spirit. One of the foundational concepts in mental health recovery (or any recovery, for that matter) is hope. In order to get out of bed and face the day, we need hope. In order to have the courage and strength needed to battle our inner demons and seek healing, we need hope. In order to pick ourselves up, time and again, after we fall down, we need hope. In order to live day by day in a meaningful existence, we need hope.
Growing up in the Evangelical Christian Church, I learned to draw my hope from the certainty of future events and places. The pain and suffering of this life would be proven worth it at the end as the wicked were punished and sent to hell while the righteous were welcomed into heaven where there was no more pain, no more tears. As I grew older and my eyes became more open to the world, this belief system began to shift. Hell was no longer a distant place, it was an ever-present reality. A reality in which a young girl is raped and beaten by her father and his friends, where children lose life and limb as collateral damage in senseless wars, where infants are born dependent on heroin and other illicit drugs, where a woman is beaten by her husband day after day and her children are forced to watch, where children as young as 7 years old decide to hang themselves because life is just too painful and they’ve lost all hope of redemption. This is hell, and a hell created entirely by humankind.
It is easy to lose hope in this seemingly hellish existence, we don’t have to look far to find pain and suffering. But there is also, if we look closely enough, healing and strength. And hope.
In the work that I do, I have the honor of listening to people’s stories, and helping them to identify and draw on their own internal strengths and resources. There is often incredible suffering and injustice in these stories and I am continually amazed at the inhumanity that humans are capable of displaying toward one another. But I am also in perpetual awe of the strength, resilience, and grit that people show by surviving and finding healing from these wounds. When the parents of a child who has committed suicide are able to forgive themselves and create meaning out of their loss by spreading awareness and tools to keep more children from taking their lives, there is hope. When a battered woman is able to find safety, heal from her wounds, and use her story to reach out and help others, there is hope. When people get tired of seeing the innocent injuries of war and rise up to question and protest their government’s military interventions, there is hope. When a young woman is able to recover from the trauma of her childhood and help give voice to others who are suffering, there is hope. Where there is healing, there is hope; and while it may at times be hard to see, there is healing all around us.
For a good portion of the last 10 years of my life, I have had trouble hanging on to hope, expecting hope to present itself to me as a long-lost friend. But I’m recognizing that finding hope is my own personal responsibility, and I’m learning to find it again. In spite of the finite disappointments of this world, I cannot lose hope of the infinite possibilities. A life without hope is indeed a hellish existence.
These days, I find much of my hope from watching my son grow and develop. He is so enthusiastic about learning and discovering his environment, his talents and abilities, the world is full of possibilities for him, and helps to me hang on to infinite hope. How could this face do anything else?
How do you find hope in your life?