Learning the Art of Hope
It happens to everyone, young and old, poor and prosperous... Troubled times show no partiality. Losses, griefs, illness, sometimes with no clear reason at all, we can find ourselves “in the pits”. Is it depression? Maybe, maybe not. The word is overused these days. We can be sad without being clinically depressed. Grief happens; and there are ways to process. Most troubles are temporary, if we can just hang on long enough.
Hope. It’s all about hope, and about avoiding the crutches that destroy our ability to develop it.
Nightmarish wars and disasters have always plagued humanity. There is no diminishing the horrific times millions have managed to survive. However, there is perspective to be gained from considering them. Things are bad, but they could surely be worse, right? If we talk to others about their troubles, sometimes ours seem lessened.
Still, when it’s dark, it’s dark.
Hopelessness makes us want any kind of crutch, anything to make ourselves feel better. Many of the ones available are not healthy. Temporary “highs”, even social ones, render the void even more void. Escape mechanisms abound, substance abuse and technology perhaps topping them as ways to numb the mind and waste time instead of solving problems.
Darkness is a time to analyze deeply. Perhaps those things or people in our lives that have kept our “lights” on are not what we need for long-term happiness. As long as we draw breath our journey is not over. There are new bends in the road, futures we do not discern, people waiting for us who will miss us if we don’t show up.
For those with faith in God there are other dimensions to consider but that doesn’t mean the same difficulties don’t arise to torment.
Especially as we approach holidays, suicide rates go up exponentially. It seems the more some things glitter, the more darkness swallows those whose lives are in despair. It reminds me of Christmas tree ornaments. So beautifully shiny and sparkly on the outside... yet if you step on one... there’s nothing inside. Good for nothing. Sometimes we feel like that. Do not believe the lies your mind may tell you.
There are ways to cope, and there is hope to be practiced, even if we never perfectly master it. Every wave is different, but as we gain experience in passing through past troubles, we gain confidence to crest the new challenges.
First rule is: DON’T GIVE UP!
I came to view this as darkness and light, and a revelation about both, when going through one of the toughest times in my life. I was losing all I’d materially worked for, through no fault of mine, but through the default and attacks of others. That made it worse, because there was not much for me to analyze about my own mistakes.
A unique part of my situation at the time was residing at the modest Rocky Mountain ranch I’d purchased to get away from urban problems. I was losing that, too, by the way.
Broad wooded valleys separated me from the Continental Divide. I enjoyed watching the sun set over the distant 14,000 foot peaks from a favorite rocky vantage point.
With my standard glass of wine in hand, I was seated on a rock thinking, pondering my losses and lack of plans, defeated at everything I’d tried. Friends had left me, too, once they realized my fortune was not coming. Not friends. Not really. Real friends stay through the hard times.
When my darkness came it came thick and deep. I had no idea what I was going to do next. Not a clue. Not a dime, business lost and no job offers. This wasn’t my first dark tunnel and I had survived others of different kinds, so I knew it would literally “get darkest before the dawn”. That platitude, however, means absolutely nothing to someone in the throes of troubles.
That evening I watched the day draw to a close. I was able to see the forests, the thin thread of river streaming through the valley before me, and the mountains themselves lit up in bright sunlight, varying shades of grey given all the last winter’s snows had melted. As the crow flies I was gazing probably 30 miles westward, unobstructed.
As the sun sank lower in the sky, the shadows lengthened in the valleys, deepening the darkness over the forests. The mountains slowly blended into the twilight, and I soon had to strain to see anything at all. There was no moon and it was going to be a very dark night indeed, and a bit of a walk back to my house.
Now it was all variable shades of black. Black upon black.
Until the first star showed up.
And I pondered.
How far is that star? Light years. How many? I had no idea. How far was I seeing the darker it got? Farther and farther, as more stars sprinkled into view.
Darkness is mandatory in order to gain long-range vision. Every observatory knows that.
I was seeing much farther in the dark than I had been able to see with the sun in full force, and a different kind of light went on in my mind. Later I would hear it said that “suffering triggers the learning center of the brain”, to which I fully concur.
We want to turn off darkness and suffering. We want to run away from it, bury it, anything but learn from it. There appears to be nothing we can do about it, constructively. But it will come again, so is there also opportunity in the event? Apparently so.
Our darkest circumstances provide a singular opportunity to search for a different kind of light source, something beyond our previous range of sight and experience. Some, perhaps many, manage to find it. If we don’t progress we’ll go through this again.
When all is bright and lit around us, we search no farther; we are complacent. The opportunity, the drive, the need to reach beyond our norm does not propel us to do anything extraordinary. In the daylight we limit ourselves. In the dark, unless we want to stay there, we wake up. In fact, we must.
Steps to consider:
1. Step outside our comfort zone. Make ourselves do it. Talk to new people.
2. Reach out for help. It’s always available. One step leads to another. Keep reaching.
3. Exercise! It’s an automatic “reset” for depression, and something we CAN control!
4. Be outside, if at all possible, and search for beautiful spaces in nature. They remind us of what’s important, and what is not. Sunlight boosts our immune system as well as our mood. Keep up with daily tasks; just do it.
5. Sleep. Then repeat steps 1-5. Nutritional changes may also help a lot.
6. Pray. I would put that first but not all do that. If inclined to seek God, do it now, read the Bible. Many of the greatest spiritual leaders went through terrible times and expressed their feelings openly in the Psalms. They hurt, they were betrayed, often they did not know why they went through so much pain. Those remind us we are not alone, and going through terrible times does not mean we are worthless or cannot find reprieve. When it’s time. Believe. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you...” (Matthew 7:7). If we are living outside God’s will for us, if we need to change so He can lift us up, that will be revealed, if sincerely sought.
7. NEVER GIVE UP.
Do not take yourself out of your future. Every person is a tributary to a stream, a river that is constantly flowing. You do not know which one you are on or who or what you may connect with downstream.
The stars in the night sky are a reminder that we are all near-sighted. Look beyond the lights around you and those that have gone out. Never mind the crushed tree ornament. It was nothing to begin with. The lights have not disappeared, it’s just time to look for some farther out.