Keep It Close: Planting Hope Where It Can Thrive
My dear Wormwood,
Be sure the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is "out there" in the "broken system" rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.
Keep up the good work,
The above excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters probably sounds like a fitting commentary on our current political climate, but it was written nearly 75 years ago in Great Britain. A fictional letter between two demons about how to destroy the human spirit, it speaks to the implications of placing our hope in politics and the culture at large.
Misplaced hope—planting our prayers and dreams in ground where it simply cannot grow—is a perennial problem. It’s far too easy for us to attach our hope to a cause that feels so much bigger and more effective than us. But suppose we’ve got it all backwards. Suppose our hope is most effective when it is kept nearest to home, not in circumstances or systems outside of our control.
A Definition of Hope
Hope is one of the most important qualities of humankind. It is second only to love in its providence, and it is akin to faith in its resilience. On a basic level, hope is our inner aspirations. It is wanting, with a dose of optimism and a trace of duty. It is sometimes mingled with fear or desperation or pride.
While hope is a uniquely human characteristic, we also see it reflected in the smallest parts of life. Right now, my lawn is freckled with fallen acorns from our five oak trees. Our kids like to collect them, pile them into their yellow toy dump truck, and race around the yard with their “gold doubloons.” Sometimes they even bury their treasure. What happens underground within a sprouting acorn is not entirely understood to those who study them, but we do know that when an inactive one is watered, enzymes are created and roots are sent out. Besides the fundamental elements by which a life occurs, there seems to be an unseen driving force—a willfulness to thrive and move and transform. This instinct, when displayed with the mind and emotional complexity of a human being, is hope at its best.
Hope is something of an enigma because while it is easily accessible in times of happiness, our hope by deterrents can be instantaneously diffused. Under the right conditions, hope does its amazing work of directing transformational growth. Likewise, acorns are capable of becoming the mightiest of trees. The thing about acorns, though, is that when they drop, they land on the surface. Sometimes the tips of grass hold them up gently while deer come to graze, and squirrels gather and bury them to eat later. While our hopes often fuel all of our little, necessary strivings, our life’s overarching hope need not become food for the wild.
Too often, we plant hope where it can’t thrive. We squander it on things like money, politics, romantic relationships, or physical appearance. In my life, this manifests itself in the things I am continually frustrated by—like how I can read every news story in the name of being informed, but at the end of the day I just worry. How a little more money is never enough. How clothes never fit like the photo. How we sometimes pour our energies into chasing a nostalgic concept of the “good old days” but overlook them while they’re happening in real time. These are the hope wastelands—those areas of life that we expect to perform beyond their role. Instead of investing our hope in these things which so easily disappoint, let us begin to transplant our hope into the rich soils of love, community, and charity.
Love is really the goal. It is the aged oak tree,with roots stretching longer in total than the tree is tall. The oak cleans the air, provides firewood, lends shelter in rain and shade in summer. It draws up nutrients from the soil and annually unfolds with leaves that contain healing properties and quietly shimmer in the wind. Love is beauty, strength and healing for all. “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:7-8). Is there a better cause on earth in which to invest our hope?
Connection with others is one of many things for which we have managed to create a technology replacement. Though social media seems to have increased communication in quantity, real community necessitates that we are seen and loved beyond curated language. One major indicator of a healthy community is a general sense of grace—where forgiveness is everyone’s mode of operation and no one is coerced into someone else’s idea of the perfect friend. A grudge held is a hope misplaced. Another sign of healthy community is mutual support, where practical and emotional needs are met in kind and according to individual need. Most of the time, cultivating healthy community simply looks like people caring for one another well. Where love is reciprocated, community begins to spring up. So does hope.
Charity is a natural extension of community, broadening our spheres of influence. Tucked away in the thick of the Old Testament is this gem, where God speaks about charity: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22). God gave a way for His people to meet the needs of strangers and thereby promote hope in times of hardship.
Since we know that hope is the vehicle that drives real transformation, let us care for it well. Let's protect our hope and cultivate it and share it with others, knowing it may have a world-altering impact.
Ownership doesn’t end with a vote. Let us not forfeit our hope any more than we would forfeit our most cherished principles. Where we lack in agreement, we make up for in love. Where our government falls short, we invest in bettering our communities. Where social programs fail, we give charitably. These simple yet profound acts are capable of transcending culture, race, and religion if our hope is invested more strongly in them. How freeing that this choice remains with us.