Monday over Coffee: Witness to Hope

Need Some Words of Encouragement?

Witness to Hope

2020 has reinforced the perspective that enduring trials and sustaining losses are an all-too-consistent theme in our lives. Having acknowledged this, I’m persuaded that, for believers in particular, seeking out sunlit hope, even amidst seasons of deep challenge is one of our most crucial duties. That is to say, while we have a responsibility to walk empathetically with those in pain, to be present sympathetically with those who are suffering, and will, at times, be counted among those who are hurting most, we’re also, at the same time, summoned to be witnesses to hope in the world.

This is a high calling that presents a high bar especially when many of us, due to temperament, because of a strategic approach to life we’ve adopted, or just on account of something mysterious inside us we can’t quite countermand, find ourselves unable to grasp onto and exude hope. So how do we respond to this summons toward optimism when it’s so easy to find reasons for pessimism?

Perhaps the first step is to recognize we have a natural bias toward negativity. Don’t lament it too much (it’s what has kept us alive so long as a species!), but know it is there. Writer Dora Gyarmati, echoing the work of Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker, tells us, “Our ancestors had to be vigilant to stay alive. Noticing danger, such as a predator, or memorizing poisonous plants was necessary for survival…(humanity has) selected for mild anxiety and negativity scanning.” In other words, we’re facing some strong genetic headwinds to overcome our bent toward negativity. We still ought to listen to this instinct sometimes in the modern, urbanized world, but not all the time. Simply knowing this bias is an ancient artifact from our time on the Serengeti Plains helps us overcome it.

Secondly, it’s going to take some practice. I was in Los Angeles last week to drive home with my son, Hank, who’s in college there. Before we left, I took a walk downtown. One particular section of my stroll was pitched steeply uphill. My legs were straining, my breath labored, but as my path began to even out, I approached a cross street called Hope. Hope Street. After the long upward climb, this was pleasant to take in. However just as I reached it, I saw another sign that said Road Work Ahead and it struck me that even if we know hope is there, maintaining it requires us to put our back into it.

Think about what this might look like. Maybe it’s volunteering for something that awards hope to someone else who needs it. Maybe it’s — with mercy and grace — giving someone a second chance. Maybe it’s to become more mindful of the things for which we’re grateful. Maybe it’s something practical like getting more sleep or additional exercise, but instead of thinking of hope as a feeling that happens to descend on us from time to time due to circumstance, reframe it as a sacred labor to take up.

There’s a superb scene at the end of the movie, Saving Mr. Banks. Tom Hanks, playing Walt Disney, has come to Emma Thompson, playing the wary Ms. P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, to persuade her to turn her literary efforts, her life’s work, over to him to make her stories into a Disney movie. In so doing, he tells her about the demands of growing up in rural, turn-of-the-century Missouri with an overbearing, often violent, father. 

I don't tell you this to make you sad, Mrs. Travers. I don't. I love my life, I think it's a miracle. And I loved my dad. He was a wonderful man. But rare is the day when I don't think about that 8-year-old boy delivering newspapers in the snow and old Elias Disney with that strap in his fist. And I am just so tired, Mrs. Travers. I'm tired of remembering it that way. Aren't you tired, too, Mrs. Travers? Now we all have our sad tales, but don't you want to finish the story?…George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that's what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.

During the week we celebrate Christmas, at the cusp of leaving one year and beginning another, let’s put our backs into the labor of becoming stronger witnesses to hope, countermanding some of our natural biases, and taking up anew the magnificent story with which God rewrote the world.

God —
 
Help me finish the year, finish the story, finish with hope. 
 
Amen.
 

—Greg Funderburk 


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