What does it mean to have hope? In normal times, it could be getting the job or pay raise you desire, winning a game or scholarship, or developing that friendship or community connection that creates a sense of belonging. But 2020 has been anything but normal. The destructive forces unleashed in 2020 have wreaked worldwide devastation – as if an 8.0 magnitude earthquake has been unleashed everywhere all at once. The combined loss of life, jobs, and human connection have pushed us to the verge of being overwhelmed as we’ve watched the world, and our worlds crumble down around us. So, what does hope look like, sound like, or feel like in times of global chaos and loss?
During the last month of 2020, I dedicated my mental and spiritual bandwidth toward rediscovering hope. Normally, my optimistic and hopeful personality temperament acts as a buffer to whatever challenges or obstacles I face. However, this past year (and apparently in this endless and ongoing pandemic season) my soul has been disrupted in multiple ways. As “der scheisse” has hit the fan on multiple fronts, the aftershocks on social-emotional well-being have ranged from sadness to fear to confusion to anger to depression.
Yet, in the middle of this present darkness, something unexpected has begun to emerge. For hope to be a source of light, which any respected psychologist would say is essential for motivation, achievement, and our very survival as human beings, then it must move beyond a kind of utopian optimism that critically negates the present reality of hardship and suffering in order to embrace a wishful alternative. What has become abundantly clear to me in my month-long pilgrimage is that for hope to be hope, it must be radically re-defined!
As a noun hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. The writer of the book of Hebrews in the scripture says that “faith is the confidence of what we hope for and the assurance of what we cannot see.” The question is, what does it take to create the expectation or confidence sufficient to build hope that is gritty enough to handle anything that comes against it?
Pioneer of hope research, Charles Snyder, has developed a model of hope that contains three building blocks: goal, agency, and pathways. Goals require a clear conceptualization of a desired future, pathways are the capacity to develop specific strategies to reach those goals, and agency is the belief that we can make things happen – including the motivation to stay the course, no matter what may come.
Dr. Snyder’s model points us to a radical re-definition of hope. Namely, hope is a dynamic, iterative, and active process that requires our volition (courageous choice) to co-create a better, specific, and desired future. Wishful thinking, on the other hand, is passive and ambiguous with no plan for how to move through chaos and loss that we all must face as human beings.
At the end of the day, hope is birthed when we move from observing our circumstances to participating in meaning-making work. As an active process that we have chosen, hope cannot be diminished by hardships, nor does it require that we remain in control. Hope is grounded in an animating belief strong enough to deal with heartbreak, rejection, and suffering, and good enough to fill us with joy, healing, and wholeness.
2020 is history. It’s a new year. I choose hope.
Ritch Hochstetler, President and CEO at ULEAD