I recently gave a talk at Via that I’d like to share about. When I signed up to give a talk I didn’t have a topic in mind. As the day approached I was expecting some sort of divine intervention to provide me with what I’d be sharing about. When I didn’t have a specific moment of clarity I began to look back at the last few months of my life to see if perhaps God had been speaking to me. As it turns out, He was. He had provided me with three signs that guided me to what He wanted me to speak about: hope.
Sign #1 – Star Wars
This probably won’t come as much of a shock, but from November through December my life was completely consumed by Star Wars. A brand new show was out and the final movie was about to be released. As a true fan I needed to be prepared, so naturally I re-watched every movie and show I possibly could. The more Star Wars I consumed the more I saw the theme throughout the series – hope.
That’s not exactly a groundbreaking revelation. One of the movies is named A New Hope, after all. But that word is present in just about every movie. The entire series can be broken down like this:
It’s bad guys versus good guys. The bad guys have seemingly every advantage imaginable. They have more resources, larger numbers, and greater power. The good guys, on the other hand, are a ragtag bunch hanging on by a thread. They don’t have overwhelming numbers and even the smallest of victories is monumental. On the surface they shouldn’t stand a chance. But they have one thing on their side that keeps them motivated. Hope. They have hope that if they just keep moving forward, maybe, just maybe, their fortune will turn around. There was no proof or evidence to suggest that anything would change in their favor, and yet this sense of hope motivated them.
SPOILER ALERT: the good guys win. As fate would have it, things do turn around for them and they are victorious in the end. Their hope is what motivated them in light of what reality may suggest. Their hope paid off.
Sign #2 – Saint Oscar Romero
As you might know, I recently went to El Salvador. But it was as I was preparing for the trip that I received this sign. I had been reading a book about Romero that detailed his life and the role he played in the history of El Salvador as Archbishop of San Salvador. I had learned a good amount about him in my previous two trips to the country. This book, however, really gave a lot of insight into just how important he was to the people. As I was reading, one word just kept coming to mind – hope. Saint Romero was a literal symbol of hope for the people. The people had been oppressed by the government for decades and had a long history of suffering. They had been ostracized so much that they had essentially become voiceless. But then Romero came along and became their voice. The people turned to him for direction, guidance, and most importantly, hope. All evidence would suggest that their suffering would continue, with no end in sight. And yet, with Romero at the helm of the church, the people were able to maintain a sense of positivity.
Even decades after his assassination Romero still inspires a sense of hope within the people. There was still suffering after his death, with a war lasting for over ten years. But his death was not in vain, as the memory of his sacrifice lived on in the hope of the people.
Sign #3: New Years
I am fascinated by the holiday of New Years, particularly resolutions. It’s not that I come up with a resolution every year, or even stick with the ones I do make for more than a month. On the surface, New Years Day is just another spot on the calendar, an arbitrary turn from one year to the next. And yet, it means so much more than that. It highlights our innate sense of resolve. Someone could have had the worst 2019 imaginable. They could have lost a job, struggled with an addiction, gone through a breakup, you name it. But the turn of the calendar to 2020 offers a fresh start. This year is going to be different. It’s going to be better. In many ways, there is no reason to believe that the new year will actually change anything. A new year isn’t some magical occurrence in which our wishes come true. The magical thing, though, is our sense of hope. Regardless of evidence or what seems rational, it is our hope that motivates us as we head into the new year.
All of those signs led me to one simple question: so what is hope? That was the question I was pondering in the weeks leading up to my talk. But instead of looking up the dictionary definition of hope I had another idea in mind. The week right before my talk happened to be on my mission trip to El Salvador. I decided to ask the people on the trip with me what they thought hope was. Here are the answers I received:
- Desire or belief in something better
- Hope in its truest essence is the desire for God’s will
- Without hope life is meaningless
- Hope gives definition to life
- Belief that if you behave rightly now things will be better in the future
- The outcome of hope is the answer to your expectation
- Having faith that something better will come
- Not waiting for it to come, but being present
- Hope is what keeps something alive, without it we feel nothing but despair
- Existence of an opportunity
- Longing for what you’re searching for
- Hope is the future
- Staying positive in dark situations
- Knowing that no matter how badly I may screw up there’s still an opportunity to take a step forward and find ourselves in a much better place
- Faith is the assurance things hoped for
- Believing in things unseen
- Hope is a target that you need help to hit
I was amazed by the depth and array of answers. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I asked this question but I didn’t think I’d get so many different responses. For me, it was proof that hope means something different to everyone. It also made me realize just how overused the word itself is.
Much like the word love, I believe the word hope has lost some of its meaning through over-saturation and overuse. How often do we say things like, “I hope it’s nice outside!”? We use the word hope without stopping to think about the weight of the word. That’s why I think it’s important to highlight the real essence of the word.
For as varied as the responses I received were, I want to point out the common link between a lot of the answers – positivity. Most of those responses show the positive mindset that comes from having hope. Unfortunately, I feel that when we use the word hope in our daily lives it’s more or less synonymous with wishful thinking. To me, wishful thinking has a negative connotation. When I hear that phrase I get the sense that it means something is unobtainable. “I hope I get the job, but that’s just wishful thinking.” Hope in its purest form, however, is the exact opposite. It’s that innate sense of positivity, that belief that something better will come about regardless of circumstance, evidence, or reality. Wishful thinking draws us into a pit of complacency. Hopefulness pushes us to keep pursuing and moving forward.
Imagine if we lived every day of our lives like the rebels in Star Wars or like Saint Oscar Romero. Imagine if each day was like New Years Eve. Instead of letting all of our struggles weigh us down we keep our heads up and envision a better life ahead. That’s hope.