What exactly is “hope”?

We throw that word around a lot, and often have only a vague idea of what we mean when we use it.

We must be careful how we define hope. This four-letter word can be used to sell you a lot of things you don’t need.* We do not need flimsy optimism or a superficial hope that promises a lot and delivers little. We want the real thing: 

Authentic hope tends our souls’ deepest needs

  • Hope of restoration to the circle of relationships we call home.
  • Hope to be well in body, mind and spirit.
  • Hope to laugh easily under a kind sun.
  • Hope to live with a clear and free heart.
  • Hope for peace that the world cannot give and cannot take.

Photo: Winter nandina, Chapel Hill, NC, 2020.

This rich hope­­–which can and does deliver on its promises–allows us to examine “What is going on?” with clear eyes. It sees that loved ones can be hurt and even die in combat or training. It sees that the soldier-parent will leave and leave and leave and some never return. This is all very true. There are very few things that do not change. Resistance to this truth is the cause of much suffering.

With clear eyes we can see that the moment of life we are in is still life. What do we want to do with it?

We are not our worst days or injuries. Real hope reminds us that there is marvelous delight and joy to be had in life. We need hope that the “new normal” will bring gifts with it. And that there may one day be a place of reconnection and restoration, even if we have to build it ourselves.

* Superficial hope includes a kernel of truth that is real, but overall, these do not satisfy and can’t provide inner peace. Examples include:

  • Purchases of consumer goods (e.g. ‘If you buy X you will feel great!’),
  • Numbing agents (‘Play this addictive game; drink Y or eat X and life will be good.’),
  • False promises of intimacy (‘If you had the right person in your life then life would be great so click here…’),
  • Spiritual egotism (‘If you breathe correctly or pray correctly you will get everything you want.’), or
  • Empty intellectual promises (“If you just get another degree or read the right books then life will be all right.”)

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