hope and help

It’s so easy to get discouraged when there are so many things to do, manage and to live with. My God is not the god of magical mirrors. When I am most discouraged…unto despair…my prayer is simply: Help, please help me. I found myself uttering this prayerful mantra quite a bit last week. There were just too many problems to be solved and troubles to be shouldered. I went into a slide. By Saturday night, my glass was far more empty than half! So empty in fact, that I felt cavernous inside with nothing left to work with, or give. I felt alone in this and was not ashamed to spill out all my frustration and despair to the God of Grace.

The next day, Sunday, eight of us attended a small lunch together afterward (potluck, of course…we’re Mennonites!)…eating, sharing stories and then singing our hearts out around the piano for an hour or two. It had been communion Sunday in our congregation that morning. In the afternoon what the eight of us shared was another communion, totally filling and uplifting. That night I did not ask for help, I said thank you and forgive me my doubt.

The prophet, Henri J. M. Nouwen, suffered doubts and the burden of the half empty glass. He was a priest, theologian, teacher, peace-maker, writer, who spoke from his heart. He speaks to mine. In his devotional journal, Bread for the Journey, he speaks about the difference between hope and optimism in his January 16 entry:

Living with Hope, January 16, Bread for the Journey, Henri J. M. Nouwen

Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things–the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation, and so on–will get better. Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.

All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would look like. Let’s live with hope.

I am not an optimist, but I do carry hope in my heart most of the time. If that were not so, I would not be alive today. I sometimes lose hope, but there is something called Grace that helps me to find it again. If this were not so…I would not be here, sharing my life with all of you. There would be no green shoots. The sun is shining this morning. The air is crisp. I will get on with my work, glad to have been able to share something again with you.

green shoots

5 Responses to “hope and help”

  1. 1 Laurie
    September 2, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    This is a good encouragement to live in God-centered hope rather than settling for self-centered optimism.

  2. 2 Anne
    September 2, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Sounds like this new church is proving to be a redemptive experience for you. I pray it continues to be and more!

  3. 4 ordinary (mostly)
    September 4, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I first learned the prayers “Help me” and “Thank you” from Anne Lamott. I have a growing appreciation for them as time passes.

    The reading from Nouwen helps me understand myself. I often think about myself as a “cheerful pessimist”. But “hopeful pessimist” might be a more accurate description of what I often feel, which is that things are bad, and perhaps getting worse. But in the midst of that, I’m at peace.

    And I’m reminded that I have that book on my shelf as well. I should get it down.

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