If you are anything like me, the energy and current of our world can squelch my hope in the future in a matter of seconds. I start to fear for my boys, and before I know it, I’m parenting out of fear. I’m wife-ing out of fear. I’m friend-ing out of fear. Which is not at all the person I want to be.
There is indeed a lot to fear. What I have come to learn about myself is that I cannot let myself go down the spiral of anxiety for too long. Given my personality, sitting in that place would leave me immobilized, isolated and hopeless. It does not help anyone, including these littles I am parenting to stay in that place. I don’t want them to have a mother whose modus operandi is fear.
Nor do I want to live in denial. Because pretending or ignoring that nothing bad happens in our world is inauthentic as well. So what can we do to care for our hearts so that we are not constantly bogged down with helplessness?
First, we decide to ingest images of hope. I am a visual person. If I see something one time, it is locked away forever in my mind’s eye. Because my vocational choices have led me down paths where I heard, day after day, stories horrific of abuse and neglect, I have to be very disciplined about what I choose to hear and see.
This vocation of hearing people’s sadness has put certain things off limits for me- certain movies, books, etc I cannot read. When someone tells me of a great book they have just finished, I ask questions. “Is it graphic? Does it involve abuse of any kind?” If the answer is yes, I can’t do it. Same goes for TV. My husband knows not to even ask me to watch a Quentin Tarentino movie. It’s just not ever going to happen.
This is a conscious decision on my part. This may not be a big deal to you, but I know that for hope to have its full potential to enter my heart, I have to keep certain visuals out of my mind. This is where I’m sounding very preachy and again, everyone is different. What kind of inventory needs to be done in your mind to make room for the seed of hope?
I also believe we have to be intentional about letting the good things in as well. There is new research that says our brains are wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. Neuroplasticity means that by simply training the brain to stop and pay 15-20 seconds of attention to small positives (a stranger’s greeting, a sweet kiss from a baby, the sweet signs of a loved one in your life, the chance to feel your lungs and legs working) can actually rewire your outlook to be more positive. Hope is intentional and subversive.
Nadia Bolz-Webber, a Lutheran pastor in Denver, talks about her tendency to become angry and hopeless- and quickly. One Sunday, right before she was to serve the Eucharist to her congregation, someone said something to her that elevated her cortisol levels rapidly and high. She spotted infant twins in the congregation and instinctively asked the parents if she could hold one of the babies. That day, she served the Eucharist with a baby in one hand and the elements in another. She knew that she had to replace her anger with good energy- the energy of an innocent baby- to get through the service and to offer her congregants the elements.
Now not all of us have access to babies when our stress elevates, but the point is it could be helpful to have a strategy to mitigate the stress and fear that enters our brains and hearts at a rapid pace. As we continue being bombarded by election coverage, perhaps we can be on the journey to exploring a good balance of being informed, but not overcome by this election season, knowing that our ultimate hope does not rest in a candidate, but in a Savior.
We surround ourselves with hope bearers. Being in a community of faith makes this one easy for many of us. In my community of faith, we hope together, as a body of Christ, as we gather school supplies for kids who are in a difficult place. We work alongside Metanoia, a holistic community development non-profit, to make lasting community change. And on a micro level, we surround ourselves with intimates who don’t have their heads in the sand, but who believe alongside us, that love wins every single time, even if at that particular time it doesn’t feel like it.
I’m not talking about Pollyanna faith here-I’m not talking about someone who says to a person in deep grief: God wanted one more angel in heaven. NO. I’m talking about the people, who in deep vulnerability, walk alongside the wounded as they grieve, recognizing that pain, death, poverty and suffering are realities.
But even beyond pain, I believe that a church community are witnesses to the wholeness of our lives- even the seemingly mundane part of our lives. We not only celebrate the big things: baptisms, weddings, graduations, births, but we show up and bear witness to new jobs, beginnings of school years, lost teeth, basketball games and new homes. We bear witness to one another’s lives.
We roll up our sleeves and become agents of hope ourselves. What if, instead of allowing our fear to immobilize us or make us angry, we meet fear in the face and defiantly say, “I’ll show you!” And what we show is service. When we fear, we serve. When we have anxiety, we serve. When someone moves, we help them pack. When someone has a baby, we take them food. When youth go to camp, we go as a chaperone. When the church needs locking up, we stay late and lock up. When the children need teachers, we teach. When the tables need moved, we move them. When the Spirit lays someone on our heart, we call them.
My rolling up of sleeves service will look different than your roll up your sleeves service because we are different in our giftings and callings. The point is, as we wait, as we long for the suffering of the world to end, we serve. And we celebrate the good that is already happening in our midst. God knows no one is glad that the Charleston shooting of nine innocent souls happened, nor the trauma of the survivors. But the hope that peeks through in tragedy is God’s business and we have seen the Gospel on display many times throughout the aftermath of that unspeakable tragedy.
Every night as I lie in bed with my four year old or as I rock my two year old, I sing a hymn. It is my quotidian act of subversion; to sing this song of hope into their ears. Hear these words:
“Go my children with my blessing, you are my own. Waking, sleeping, I am with you, never alone. In my love’s baptismal river, I have made you mine forever, go my children with my blessing, never alone.”
We are not alone. We belong to God, the one who gives us our hope. We are loved. We love. And we speak truth to the hope that propels us. Love wins….every single time. Amen.
LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. She is mother to two boys, ages 4 and 2 years.