Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Active Hope – Active Participants

Written by: on February 13, 2015

There have been two times in my life that I have had an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.  The first was the time after John’s death.  It was a very dark, dark time in my life.  I could barely breathe…I could barely live.

The second time I had this feeling of hopelessness was when I worked as a hospital chaplain. Two days into my residency I was doing the rounds in one of the intensive care units (this means I was part of a medical team that discusses the condition and the steps for treatment of each of the patients in that unit).  As I listened to the diagnosis of each patient I found myself becoming agitated–no maybe frustrated–or better yet angry.  I thought, “You have got to be kidding me! Give me a break, how much more is this person going to endure? How much more can their families take? What are we doing here?  This is hopeless!  This is absolutely hopeless!”  I wanted to leave at that moment but I continued on.  At the end of my rounds I went to my office and thought, “What am I doing here?  This is hopeless!”

As I sat in my office, in a state of disbelief and feeling hopeless, I reflected, paid attention and listened to what I was feeling. I thought, “Miriam, if I can’t hope, I have no business being here.” I began to read my life backwards. I thought of God’s presence in the events of my life that have made me or unmade me. I was reminded of God’s faithfulness in the hard places. I was able to see how God has been with me in the midst of challenges (good and/or bad).  I began to say in my spirit, “There is hope, there is hope.” And then I found myself saying it out loud, “There is hope, there is hope.”  How do we find hope in the midst of our struggles and pain?  Let me suggest to you that it is in our struggles and pain that we find hope…if we allow it.

In the book, “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy,” the authors, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, comment on the fact that it can feel overwhelming when we hear and see the depressing news and tragedies of the world. However, they suggest that

“by acknowledging that our times confront us with realities that are painful to face, difficult to take in, and confusing to live with, is the beginning of the journey…an amazing journey that strengthens us and deepens our aliveness. The purpose of this journey is to find, offer, and receive the gift of Active Hope.”[1]

Perhaps I cannot change the diagnosis of the patient, but I can certainly be an active participant in the lives of the family by offering comfort, compassion, and a caring community. We can accomplish more together than we can as separate individuals. According to the authors, Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. What are we hoping for? Of course, we are hoping that the person does not die. But when the results and all the diagnosis points to death, we hope for peace for the one dying and for those who will walk “through the shadow of death.”

What about the violence, abuse, hatred, racism, and prejudice that we experience day in and day out in our world? Perhaps we cannot single-handedly stop this ugliness and mess that often feels overpowering and leaves one feeling depressed, disgusted, and defeated. But we can certainly be active participants in “restoring” and “restorying” (pg. 93) the lives of many who perhaps cannot see the possibility. Active Hope is a practice.[2] And we need to practice what is right for present and future generations. Macy and Johnstone state that “doing what is right may at times cause inconvenience for our families, jeopardize the career prospects of our colleagues,(or your own) decrease profits for our employers, or even conflict with the law. Doing what feels right can leave us facing conflicting loyalties as well as opposition and intimidation.”[3]

Yet, the authors offer us a powerful question to ask as we are debating whether to do the right thing or not: “What happens through you?” (96). It takes courage to step in and step up to do the right thing. We may have courage, but it is not about having courage, but about putting it into action. Active Hope is about turning courage from a noun into a verb!

Will you be part of the problem or will you be an active participant and be part of the solution that can help bring about healing to a hurting world? Being part of the solution challenges us to acknowledge that we are not separate individuals in our own little bubbles but connected parts in a much larger story.

No one comes out of struggle or suffering, the same kind of person they were when they went in.  It’s possible, of course, to come out worse than we were when we went into the throes of pain.  Struggles can either deform or transform you. We have a choice. Active Hope is choosing to “restore and restory.”  After all, isn’t that what Christ did for you, for me, and for the world!

[1] Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In without Going Crazy,” (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3

[3] Ibid., 96

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

6 responses to “Active Hope – Active Participants”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Miriam, thanks for sharing about your own personal times of hopelessness. I am truly in awe of people who do hospital chaplain work – it is something I’ve never experienced and am not sure how would handle. I can image though feeling at times that sense of being overwhelmed by people’s suffering.

    I do appreciate your focus in your post on the idea that: “We can accomplish more together than we can as separate individuals.” I think this must be the key to any involvement in bringing about a hopeful future is that we don’t attempt to do it alone. Our modern myths of the powerful individual or conquering hero can only lead to disappear…and maybe here is the big problem we face in society today, that we are a bunch of loners who want to see positive change but really can’t do it on our own. I am not sure that the Church today is really providing a great example of cooperation, of coming together to accomplish the healing and betterment of our world! If the Church alone would come together and face the world’s ills, think of what could happen! And together we definitely would experience that sense of true hope.

    Great thoughts, Miriam! Blessings to you this weekend

  2. Deve Persad says:

    Miriam, like John’s comments above, I appreciate your focus on the idea that we “restore and restore” together; not alone. Such a needed reminder. So often, even as followers of Jesus, we tend to listen to His Word from an individual perspective, when so much of it is written to groups and for groups of people.

    The other idea you mention is the role of hardship on our lives. “Struggles can either deform or transform you. We have a choice.” Again, our culture shapes us to think we have no choice – that we must accept and highlight our sense of loss, shortcoming, or hurt. There is so much to be gained by recognizing the other choice, to be “transformed” by our hurt; and in so doing we experience the healing that Christ indeed wants to effectuate through us.

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Dear Miriam
    Your writing is so touching and so helpful. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and for showing us that it is possible to find hope in such painful situations. What you shared is so meaningful. I like too where you wrote, “Active Hope is about turning courage from a noun into a verb!” Thank you Miriam.

  4. Ashley Goad says:

    Miriam, I came away from reading your blog wanting simply to hug you. After the scores of hurricanes hitting the gulf coast, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance adopted the slogan, “Out of Chaos, Hope.” When we emerge from chaos, hurt, loss, and even just an overwhelming day, with a sliver of hope, that seed can take root and grow and propel us into a new chapter of “restore and restore.” I love that phrase, Miriam. Absolutely perfect.

  5. Julie Dodge says:

    Miriam –
    Your post reminded me of this quote: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” (Martin Niemoller) I think because in those moments when we are overwhelmed, from fear or pain or helplessness – to do nothing is the greater sin. If no one does anything, nothing changes. If each of us lives according to our calling, according to the grace and mercy and strength God gives us, well then – it could simply be amazing. And the best question you quoted: “What happens through you?”

    That’s a good one to sit with.

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear Miriam, thank you for writing a moving and engaging post! I really appreciate the personal stories and how the bring home the principles in Johnston and Macy’s book.

    Suffering, “struggles can either deform or transform you.” I couldn’t agree more. Hopelessness is a painful experience and I believe that the Holy Spirit is the one who walks us through such moment by the grace of God.

    Again thanks!

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