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.”
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. 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.”
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!
 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.
 Ibid., 3
 Ibid., 96