What Do You Mean by "Hope"?
Updated: Sep 28
I'm currently reading the book You Are Changing the World - Whether You Like It or Not by David LaMotte. It's helping me a ton because I am in a season where I am muttering to myself daily, "What the hell is going on? Why am I even trying?" Business is as tough for me as I can ever remember it being, therefore money is tight. Our nonprofit is seemingly under constant attack, fights like hell for funding, has personnel/volunteer challenges, and I have often had to cover its payroll (which I can't really afford to do). Our daughter who's spent time incarcerated got a DUI and is likely headed back to prison on a probation violation and we're shelling out attorney's fees (maybe business isn't all that bad, money is just going other places). The space I have long used as a refuge from all this kind of junk - coaching football - is, well, ahem, a defecation show-type situation; we are bad. I'll mention here in case you don't know me that I deal with an anxiety disorder that is often bad enough it triggers depression. As you might guess, the internal debate about giving up rages in me.
But, if I am gonna preach perseverance to my kids, grandkids, recoverees, and my players then I damn well better demonstrate it myself. That is what gets me up and out the door every single day.
Back to the book and today's reading. The passage was on "Hope & Optimism". Now, I am a man of strong faith, but even after my conversion, I have steered clear of messages of "hope" and "positive thinking" because I deemed them pie-in-the-sky or head-in-the-sand approaches to life. I can't stand the self-help mantras of "fake it til you make it" and "envisioning what you want and going after it". Of course, we need to do what needs to be done and we must fulfill our responsibilities. And we need to try to strive to do better and to grow. And there is certainly no harm in being hopeful about things we can change as long as we don't get so distracted by that hopefulness that we don't actually go about the work. I have long felt we all have a calling and we need to find what that is. But in the meantime, we may need to do some things to pay the bills and take care of our loved ones and ourselves that are outside our calling.
So, what do we mean when we talk about "hope"? Is it daydreaming? Is it always having a positive attitude? Is it fully believing that God is always in control? Maybe.
Sorry - back to the book, this time I am serious: LaMotte is writing about Vaclav Havel - I was in Prague a couple of times in the winter of 1989-1990 so he is a hero of mine. Google him if you don't know who he is. The passage in the book about hope and optimism changed my perception of those words. I, of course, know the definition of them both. But they have become those kinds of words I can use in context correctly but maybe couldn't define adequately if put on the spot. So this writing was particularly interesting to me.
Havel writes about hope...
"Hope is not prognostication, it is an orientation of the spirit. It has nothing to do with prediction. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." It's that last sentence that made me sit up in my chair and see all this "bs" I am dealing with for what it is. Much of it is not my fault first of all. And it's also not a sign from God that I am not supposed to be doing what I am doing where I am doing it. On the contrary, the outcome isn't really what it's about at all - at least in the short term. Hell yes, I would love for everything I do to be impactful and meaningful in the moment. But the truth is it won't be. And even if things turn out completely and seemingly wrong, if my heart is full of hope, then the outcome isn't really supposed to be the focus. Just knowing that what I am doing makes sense is what hope is about.
This passage today instantly changed my perspective on all the battles I list above - every damn one of them. And I am not sharing this for any kind of pity, just that it made me see things differently.
So, I ask you - in what do you need to reconfirm your hope? What are you doing that seems to be a task fitting of Sisyphus? Because I am here to tell you that supporting people in recovery, helping people reenter their community, coaching kids, being a parent, and having empathy for your neighbor all feel like a waste of your energy at times. It seems like that rock rolling back down the hill when Sisyphus gets it to the top each time someone relapses...when someone on probation commits a violation...when your team is losing each contest...when your bank account is shrinking fast... And really, hope isn't about that changing. Hope is about knowing that doing the work anyway is the right thing to do.