I have come to realise that the concept of hope is really important to me. Hope is the fuel for my work as a counsellor. It encourages and energises me to keep going even when things feel impossible.
During a certain period of my life I lost faith in hope. Hope was a burden to me because I was stuck in a cycle of hope and disappointment due to fertility problems. I started to think it wasn’t worth having hope as I would just be more disappointed. But the alternative to hope did not feel good either. A kind of negative/pessimistic/ fatalistic outlook which also felt burdensome and made me feel more isolated from others. I came to recognise that setting your hope on one particular outcome can be unhelpful. If we can broaden our field of vision we can begin to see other possibilities in the future that could also be hopeful outcomes.
In many ways it seems like a dark time in our nation and our world at the moment. It may feel like a dark time in your life. How can we find hope in the face of adversity and light in the midst of darkness? Here are some of the things that give me hope – perhaps they can act as springboards for your own expressions of hope.
Hope is built into our bodies. The human brain has the capacity to keep forming new neural pathways throughout our lives. This astonishing capacity of the brain gives me hope for myself and others that we can heal from difficult experiences and continue developing and growing as people no matter how old we are. This was brought home to me when I watched a TV programme about older people in a care home being encouraged to interact with children and take part in new activities. A 99 year old woman showed improved cognitive ability at the end of the project. If she can do it, anyone can!
In my work as a counsellor I hear countless stories of how people survive despite adversity and have the privilege of witnessing their healing from difficult experiences. This gives me hope in the resilience of human beings and belief that even painful experiences can bring about good in our lives. Not every story has a happy ending but there are many examples of people responding to suffering in a courageous way which enables them to grow. Sometimes suffering is the refining process from which comes gold. If you are going through a difficult time I’d encourage you to seek out stories of those who have gone before you. Understanding what helped them to cope and what they have learned from similar experiences can be a source of hope. Seek out role models who have lived through adversity and found hope in spite of it.
Although there are many stories in the news of poverty, injustice and suffering there are also many good things happening which often don’t get reported. Every day ordinary people are doing extraordinary things to help others. I was moved by a recent local news report of three teenaged boys who showed great courage in saving a woman and her baby from drowning.
If we look back much further in time to how the world has changed in the last few centuries there is a definite sense of progress towards greater equality, health, safety and stability. As Martin Luther King Jr famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”. According to the charity Tearfund, more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990. In the 20th century there has been great progress towards the protection of human rights, particularly for women and marginalised groups. Although we can’t deny there is still great suffering in the world, through looking back we can find hope that the future will look brighter.
My Christian faith gives me hope that ultimately good will triumph over evil. It informs my view of human beings as made in the image of God and having great capacity for doing good (despite our propensity to hurt each other and make bad choices). Not everyone has a religious faith but if you can find ways to connect with something bigger than yourself (nature? the universe? humanity?) this can help you gain perspective. Matt Haig, author of Reasons to Stay Alive writes that recognising that he was only a very small part of the universe helped to reduce his anxiety about his day to day concerns. A belief in something greater beyond ourselves can help us see the “mystery element” in life. Sometimes co-incidences occur which are hard to explain and which lead to better outcomes. Something good may be waiting for us around the corner which we could not have predicted.