Lately, I’ve been wondering a lot about hope.
It’s something that’s been on my mind for a long time now, actually. Because for me, in the kind of work that I do, hope is as necessary as oxygen, as rare as a meteor, and about as easy to work through as quantum physics.
For the last several years, I’ve spent my days working to prevent and intervene with human trafficking on a global scale. And to be honest, it’s not the kind of vocation that naturally lends itself to hopefulness.
Modern-day slavery is worse today than it ever was during the transatlantic slave trade over two hundred years ago. Some say as many as 36 million people are forced to work against their will, from factories to brothels, restaurants to strip clubs, in practically every country across the world—even in my own backyard in Canada.
In dark times like these, hope is a tough pill to swallow. And, especially when it comes to something as egregious as human trafficking, I struggle to tell myself the usual platitudes of “stay positive” … “stick with it” … “it will get better.” I’m getting a little tired of hearing the trite cliché “but there is hope!” at the end of a lecture about the millions of children forced to work against their will around the world, or the billions of dollars that slavery generates every year.
Where is hope in something so evil and overwhelming? How do I hope things will get better when things only seems to get worse?
Hope is hard. It’s difficult to build and easy to destroy (tweet that!) It takes a long time to prevail and a short time to disappoint. It’s almost impossible to grasp: it has no texture, no traction, no tangible measurement of its capacity.
At least, that’s how we traditionally see it. Because lots of times, we romanticize hope. It’s a feeling we get when we want something to happen. And it’s something we want to happen through a stress-free, uncomplicated, invulnerable route—one that comes without too much conflict or mistakes or regret.
I think that’s why we sometimes avoid hope. It’s because we’re afraid. Afraid of what we could lose by taking a risk on hoping for something that might not transpire how we want. Afraid of unknown territory or an outcome we might not like. Afraid of what we might look like if we fail.
We confuse hope with desire—and when the things we desire don’t come to fruition exactly the way we want, then we give up. If there’s even a chance that what we hope for doesn’t materialize, we’d rather not try at all. “I don’t want to get my hopes up,” we say with a shrug, as if hope is worse than indifference.
Maybe hope isn’t the problem. Maybe the problem is how we understand hope (tweet that!)
In my case, I’ve learned the hard way of how counter-productive it can be to have the grandiose hope for perfection. It’s unrealistic to enter a service capacity with the belief that I can flawlessly remove the pain and plight of other people. But I’ve also learned how futile it is to try to influence the course of justice without some level of sanguine expectations. After all, how can I help others if I don’t have any hope for them to begin with?
What I need instead is the kind of hope that’s less contingent on how I feel. Because if I always let my feelings act on my behalf, I’ll be held captive by them. If hope is only ever an emotion, I’m less likely to do what it takes to convert it into a reality. If I let how I feel about evil and human trafficking and exploitation to decide how I respond to it, I’ll be forever immobilized.
What hope looks like
There’s an elderly gentleman in my neighbourhood who shows me exactly what an enduring hope looks like. Sometimes daily, I see this same man in a blue windbreaker, carefully picking up trash with his bare hands to clear the sidewalks and back alleys of his community. He’s not naïve—he’s lived long enough to know there will be more trash the next day, and the day after that. But every day, he chooses to return, tidying up the mess left by other people, leaving the path behind him a little cleaner, a little more beautiful.
This is a man who knows what it’s like to have disappointment and ugliness littered around him—literally. Yet this is a man who chooses to not let feelings or circumstances to quash his vision for something better. He knows that hope can remain, even when it’s submerged in darkness (tweet that.)
From him, I’m learning I can’t easily separate hope and disappointment. The two coincide. They overlap just as much as good and bad, joy and despair, peace and pain. We know hope because we know disappointment. And we choose hope, because it supersedes the emotional realm and reminds us of why we need to keep going.
Even when it comes to the fight against injustice, I cannot, will not hush my hope. Whether I’m looking into the eyes of an inner-city youth I know is being groomed by a gang for prostitution, or if I’m reading yet another e-mail about how a lack of funding is holding our non-profit back from helping the people who need it most, I need to remember that hope is less of an emotion and more of a state of mind.
Hope is a practice. It’s that thing that guides me in my pursuit for greater purposes, with the faith that whatever the outcome may be, I’ll have the strength and discernment to know how to handle it.
And even if that final outcome isn’t what I wanted or expected, it’s okay to feel that discouragement. It’s okay to know what it’s like to taste defeat or feel overwhelmed or know bitterness, because maybe that’s exactly what leads me to something more. Maybe it leads me to a new path, to broader growth, to deeper understanding. Maybe it takes me beyond what I desire to what I really need.
So maybe there is room for hope, after all—even in unlikely places—just as long as there’s room for disappointment, too. Maybe we can still move forward in faith, even if we can’t see the healing or renewal coming.
How do you feel about hope? Is there something in your life you’re afraid to put your hope in right now?
Ask yourself this question in your journal: in what area of my life have I lost hope, and how can it be renewed?
Share your thoughts in the comments!
Image credit: Morgan Sessions