What is Hope? Part 2

In the first part of this series on defining hope, I focused on the theological and spiritual aspects of hope; how hope is a virtue anchored on God and intimately united with love. (It’s a great read, check it out before moving on to this post). To briefly summarize, hope is a belief that things will get better. It is not the same thing as wishful thinking, which is naive and short-sighted; hope rests on an eternal goodness that gives perspective to our current struggles. For this post, I want to focus on the disposition of the one who has hope. What does living with hope do to the interior psyche of a person? How does it help in living a more fulfilling life? (I am a counselor, after all, and these types of questions always fascinate me.) Living with hope does a few things to the individual that possess this virtue. It provides a healthy-optimistic view of the world, it gives meaning in life, and it leads to right action. All of which are positive indicators for living a good life.

Psychologically speaking, optimism is an unwavering personality trait that regardless of the circumstances you still see life as good. The opposite of optimism is pessimism, where you see life as fundamentally flawed. According to Dr. Martin Seligman, in his book Authentic Happiness, the optimist is the person who sees bad events in life as temporary and isolated incidents, blips on the radar. He is able to understand and explain these bad moments. Moreover, he finds meaning and purpose in them. He can maintain perspective while not succumbing to the pains of life. The pessimist is the opposite, he is the person who sees the world negatively and dismisses the good events as temporary and isolated. The good moments become the blips on the radar for the pessimist. The optimist has hope, the pessimist does not. As a result, the optimist generally lives a healthier life than the pessimist and is not as prone to depression.

The traits of optimism and pessimism not only impact the individual but her social life and relationships. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s hard to get motivated to go out with friends or do some charitable work when you feel depressed or scared. As a result, pessimism can lead to self-absorption and rumination of negative experiences. It can become a nasty self-fulfilling prophecy. (We all have moments of this in life, but it becomes clinical when it is pervasive or due to trauma.) A simple way of testing where you fall on the optimism-pessimism spectrum is to think about your thinking: How often do you find yourself ruminating on past negative events or current stressors? How easy is it to recall recent gratifying experiences? How likely are you to dismiss a compliment? How likely are you to focus on worry and anxiety? There are concrete steps you can take to shift your thinking from focusing on the bad events and recalling hopeful memories. I encourage you to listen to episodes 14 and 15 of Always Hope on redemptive suffering and Catholic mindfulness, respectively, to further dive into these approaches.

The person with hope has a deep sense of meaning and purpose in her life. As I stated in the previous post, the fullness of hope rests on God’s promises of eternal salvation. Nothing short of heaven can fulfill our deepest longings. Fr Jacques Phillippe, in the chapter “Expect the impossible” in A Beautiful Hope, stated that hope is linked to desire and God will purify our hope and desires. Inevitably, there comes a moment when hope in the “lesser things” (see my previous post) fades and all that is left is a burning desire for God alone: not his church, not his gifts, not his favors, but Him and Him alone. We tend to lose hope in those moments of suffering, but that doesn’t have to be the case if we can continue to unite our pains and trials with Jesus and be patient with our emotions as we wrestle with our despair. (Two great autobiographical accounts of this purgative process are A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek.) Remember that God often allows us to suffer to draw us closer to himself, not to push us away. It is in those moments that we reach the limits of our human capacity, embrace our poverty, and cry out for salvation. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:3). The person with hope lives this promise. Her face is set like flint against the hardships of the world. He is able to turn the other cheek and learn to bloom wherever God has planted him. The person with hope becomes a beacon to the world that sin does not have the final answer and that love has already triumphed!

When we anchor our hope on God, and when we have shifted our desires to understand how that hope is actualized within us, now we can be people of right action. So, hope is also linked to the pearl of virtues…wisdom. Let me explain this in a story. Recently, I was having a conversation with my friend, Fr. Josh Johnson, who quoted a homily by his bishop (Michael Duca of Baton Rouge), who said that hope allows us to know what to pray for. Sometimes in the hospital rooms, families are praying for their loved ones not to die, when the more appropriate thing would be to pray for a peaceful death. Even in death, we have hope. (What a truly beautiful Christian thought…that death becomes the vehicle that unites us with our creator!) It would be “wishful thinking” for the family to continue praying for the person to come back to life when the greater miracle is that their loved one is closer to God after death than before it. Again, hope leads to wisdom. Even when we have to make changes in our current circumstances, like finding a new job or leaving a bad relationship, we can only truly know how to move forward when our desires have been purified and possess the clarity on what that next step should be. (More on this point in the next post).

So, cling to hope brothers and sisters! Let your hearts rest on Jesus, so that your mind may be clear enough to do the tasks before you. Let hope fill you so that we can be the light God has asked us to be in this world.

The final part of this series will be up soon! Stay connected with me on Facebook and Instagram (@drmariosacasa) so you don’t miss it!

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Associate Director of Faith and Marriage

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