By Rich Ward, Campus Pastor and Associate Dean of Spiritual Life and Calling.
Pandemic is something I never thought would actually happen. I find myself looking for ways to not get too overwhelmed by this new normal. A worldwide outbreak or pandemic is what I watch in movies or play in video games. Now, this is a reality and not just a movie or a game.
Personally, I have been experiencing so many different emotions depending on the day. I have been fearful and stressed about what this could mean for myself and my family as we look to the future. In conversations with my wife about how strange this season is, I have said that my hope is set on the pandemic ending. Then, I realized that my hope is not for an end to the crisis but for a return to normalcy. As I was praying this past week, asking God for direction and guidance, I realized that what I need is a fresh perspective. I need to see and feel hope. Let’s take a fresh look at how we can practice hope.
What is Hope?
Hope is more than wishful thinking or anticipating the best possible outcome. That’s optimism. Hope—that is, Christian hope—is the desire for the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now. It inspires us to act with kindness, gentleness, and generosity so we might know and experience peace and joy today. Hope is trusting in Christ’s promise of intimacy with God instead of fearing loneliness and isolation. Hope is relying on God’s grace instead of our own strength or abilities. In simpler words, optimism is seeing a half-empty cup of coffee and saying it’s half-full; hope is knowing the location of the nearest Starbucks.
Hope is a practice. It is a discipline. It’s not something you have—it’s something you do.
Three ways we can practice Christian hope:
- Look at yourself differently and practice self-compassion.
When we lean into the idea of hope, we need to understand that Christ loves us and that the love He offers is hard for us to believe or accept sometimes. This week of the Christian calendar should remind of us the greatest love story in history. Christ died for you and took on your sin and shame in love and compassion. Jesus died and rose from the grave because He loves every part of you. It is hard sometimes to just accept this truth and allow yourself to be okay with “you.” It is okay to allow yourself to be human and to be okay with your circumstances and show yourself self-compassion. Here is a way to put this into practice. Go to a place by yourself and pray this prayer 3 times in a row:
Start with your hand over your heart and say these words out loud. “I am loved, God sees me, and He loves me. Help me to be kind to myself and see me as Jesus sees me. Amen.”
- Comfort others.
St. Paul reminds me that God “consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). I practice hope by being a source of consolation to others. By recognizing their suffering, I can be a person of love, mercy, and compassion. This can be as simple as noticing when another person is in pain and praying for them even from afar in our own homes as we practice social distancing. Hope allows us to reach across the fence, television, and even through a pandemic to serve one another in love.
- Pay attention to beauty.
St. Francis of Assisi praised God with the words, “You are beauty.” God is not something beautiful. God is beauty itself! Hope opens my eyes to the beauty that surrounds me. It is the desire to stop and take it all in, which can be challenging during this time of quarantine. Personally, I find beauty in nature—I often lose myself in the gentle silence of an evening sunset or light rain here in Portland. I can also find beauty in more unlikely places: a cup of coffee and reading the Word that is so encouraging to me. When we journey practicing hope, we will see beauty everywhere, even in the news stories of people caring for the sick and the vulnerable during this pandemic. For when we see beauty, we will see God. Where have you seen beauty during this pandemic crisis? How has this beauty given you hope?
We can live this hope by seeing ourselves as, first and foremost, people loved by God. We can live this hope by coming to the aid of others, even from afar. We can live this hope by looking for the beauty that surrounds us. We can bring Emmanuel—which literally means “God is with us”—into the world by being people who practice the hope of Jesus Christ. Blessings and let’s practice hope today!