When You've Lost Hope

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 24:21
1 Peter 1:3

When hope dies in a person’s life, it takes a miracle to revive it, but the good news is our God is good at miracles.

WHEN HOPE DIES

Are you struggling to hold onto what seems like a lost hope? How many people are suffering in that way! We get their letters here at Words of Hope almost every day. A man and his wife have both been out of a job for a year and see no prospects of finding one. A young woman yearns to be married but finds nothing but disappointment in her relationships with men. Someone in a nursing home fears that there is no future for him, for her, and has all but given up.

Multitudes have that kind of outlook about the wider world in which we all live. Can we hope for peace on a planet torn by ethnic strife? Is there any way out of the economic woes besetting many nations? Will there be enough to go around on this planet with a growing population and dwindling resources? Many take a gloomy view of all that. Even Americans, long known as an optimistic people, are not so cheerful now about what’s ahead. For some years, most U.S. citizens have no longer believed, as once they did, that the future will be better or brighter than the past. It’s no exaggeration to say that hope, on a world-wide scale, is in decline.

Something we had hoped for, longed for, hasn’t materialized. Some cherished dream hasn’t come true. Someone we had put confidence in hasn’t come through for us. The years are passing and hope is fast ebbing away.

Perhaps for you there has been a succession of failures and disillusionments. In some part of your life that’s deeply important to you, you simply aren’t making it. The closest relationships you’ve had, the ties that gave stability and meaning to your life, seem to be coming apart. That project over which you planned and toiled for so long isn’t going anywhere. You’re finding how true the old proverb is that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12).

And what a sickness that is! When hope fails, we become vulnerable to a thousand ills that wouldn’t otherwise hurt us. I was talking to a surgeon friend of mine not long ago about his work. It is his policy not to operate on any patient who doesn’t think he will survive the surgery. Even if the operation is minor, a relatively safe procedure, this doctor will cancel it or at least postpone it until some degree of confidence is evident. Hopelessness, he believes, takes more toll on life than most of us will ever know.

And not only that. While we are alive, think how it incapacitates us. My wife has worked for many years with disadvantaged young people: the physically handicapped, the mentally retarded or impaired, and the culturally deprived. Most of these young people have had numerous difficulties and setbacks in school. Repeated frustrations have fixed in many the notion that they just can’t learn. When a new problem is set before them or a new skill to be mastered, they won’t even try. If they have a spark of hope, they’ll put forth the effort that makes success possible. But as long as they think it’s no use, they’ll just sit there, heads down, and do nothing.

All of us are like them in that. When we face problems that seem too massive, too complex, we throw up our hands. Take world hunger, for example. Everyone agrees that food surpluses are alarmingly low. Provisions are scarce in many parts of the world. Hunger, malnutrition, starvation are monstrous realities in our time. Some analysts have said that the situation is hopeless. We’ll have to write off vast areas of the world, multiplied millions of people. That is a tragic, crippling attitude. A conviction that the plight of the needy can’t be changed cuts the nerve of all effort to help them.

Further, hopelessness as a disease of the human spirit is terribly hard to cure. You may have discovered that, if you have cared for or worked with those who lose heart. The sickness hangs on tenaciously. Its victims almost seem to resist hope. They repel any effort at encouragement with a barrage of reasons why nothing can possibly work out well. It almost seems that they don’t want to look at things more optimistically, that they are determined to despair. It’s probably more accurate, however, to say that they are afraid to hope. They’ve been disappointed so many times that they can’t cope with another letdown. Their defenses against hopefulness are strong and high. So they live behind those walls, permanently trapped, it seems, in their own misery.

When I think of people who have lost hope, for whom all the brightest days seem past, I think especially of Jesus’ followers after he had been crucified. Two of them, walking together toward a town called Emmaus, spoke eloquently for all the rest, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” That was their story, “We had hoped” – past tense. “We don’t expect it now, but once we did. We had it, this thing called hope, but now it’s gone.”

Try to put yourself in their place for a moment. On Palm Sunday, Jesus had entered Jerusalem in triumph. Multitudes had greeted him with joy, strewing palm branches before him, spreading their cloaks on the ground to prepare his way. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” they cried, “Hosanna in the highest!” It seemed now that Israel’s long-awaited king, Savior of his people, had come. During the week that followed, those hopes were tested and assailed. On Good Friday, they were crushed. Jesus, having been arrested, tried, and subjected to the worst torments, gave up his life on a Roman cross. The one in whom these disciples had invested their lives, in whom they had set their hopes, was dead.

And they, all of them, were heartsick, dying of hopelessness. They feared for their safety. They huddled behind locked doors. They seemed numb, helpless to do anything. And talk about resisting encouragement – they did. It took a great deal for those men to believe that anything could turn out happily again. Who was ever more stubborn in refusing to hope than the man we call “doubting Thomas”?

But one of them, Simon Peter, actually lived to write these words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). “May God be praised,” he sings. “He has given us a brand new start. He has filled our hearts with undying hope.” How, Peter? “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

HOW IT COMES TO LIFE

Let’s trace this amazing change in these first Christians. How did they pass from despair to joyous confidence? From dead dreams to a living hope? There may be some clues here for us in our struggles today.

What happened to these two men on the road to Emmaus? (Luke 24:13-35). What stages did they go through in recovering their hope? First, they got around to doing something, even if it was just taking a walk, getting some fresh air, heading back home. We need that when we’re hurting and our dreams have been smashed. When the first shock subsides, it helps to look at our options. When a cherished loved one is gone, there are still some places we can go, some people to whom we can relate, something to spend our time on. Healing can sometimes begin if we can get ourselves moving even a little bit. No matter what it is, just starting it can help. Get yourself up and start walking.

Second, people can help a lot. Those disciples, most of them at least, had the good sense to stay together when the blow fell. They didn’t wander off, each man on his own. Yes, they locked themselves in a room, fearful and dejected, but they stayed together. When these two men headed for Emmaus, they went side by side. They didn’t have happy things to celebrate, but at least they could talk. They could share their confusion and pain.

If you are battling discouragement, struggling to hold onto hope, don’t isolate yourself. You may not feel like being with people. It may look better to you to wander off, to suffer through it alone, but it isn’t. You need people. You need their companionship. You need their support. You need their listening ear. Sometimes you need them to believe for you when you can’t trust anymore, to hope for you when your hopes have died. You need them most of all just to be with you through it.

And if you’re trying to help someone who has lost hope, remember that that’s what they need. Don’t make the mistake I’ve often made of trying to cheer people up quickly, to make them be hopeful. If they are deeply troubled, if their hopes have really been shattered, that’s not going to help. It can make their burden even heavier. When we pressure the disconsolate, when we push them to be hopeful, as though they could just “snap out of it” right away, they are put off. It seems to them that we aren’t taking seriously their dismal prospects, that we’re making light of what to them is terribly serious. Our well-meant efforts at encouragement may come across as heavy expectation, as our insisting that they be different.

Instead, let’s just be there with them. Let’s love them by listening, by accepting what it is that they feel. There’ll be time later to reassure, to express our confidence that things can get better. But our best gift to the acutely despairing is not words, but simply presence.

Then there is the role of Scripture, the resource of the Bible. When Jesus, unrecognized, met these Emmaus travelers, he first listened to them, drew them out, then “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things about himself.” As they later recalled the experience, they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” These Scriptures have more than once lighted a fire of hope in the hearts of discouraged people. You may not have much appetite for the Bible. You may doubt that there’s anything there that can be of help to you, but you could be wrong on that. Let yourself be exposed to the Bible. Your faith may seem dead as you read, but that Word has power to make it live again.

But the heart of what we need when our hopes are dashed is to meet the living Lord himself. That’s what made the difference for those two on the Emmaus road. Activity, companionship, the Scriptures, those were all a part of it. But it was when their eyes were opened to recognize Jesus, alive and present with them, that hope flamed up again.

What does it mean that Christ is risen from the dead? It means surely that he is all he claimed to be, the Son of God, the world’s one Savior, King of kings, Lord of lords. It means that forgiveness is real and death is robbed of all its terrors. But it means also that you can be raised again now to a life full of hope! The resurrection is the sign, friends, that God’s purpose of love is going to win in this world. His kingdom of truth will yet prevail in spite of everything. When Christ came forth from the tomb at daybreak on Easter, hope for the whole world came with him. God has the last word. He takes the worst evil people do, transforms it, and makes it serve his loving purpose. And he does that not just on a world scale but for one weary struggler, for another sick with hopelessness, for ordinary people like you and me.

I pray that you will meet this risen Lord and see him with eyes of faith anew, or for the first time, today. We his people can try to provide a supportive fellowship. We can share with you the Scriptures. But it takes the Lord’s own power to revive your heart and your withered hopes. Look to him, the living Jesus. Call on him now, commit yourself to him, live in communion with him. Then this can be your song, too: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”