I write about hope when I’m despairing, because despair’s how I find out how much I need hope and to discover where it can be found; I’m writing to encourage myself mainly, and to remind myself why it’s worth pressing on. I’m an activist, and this is the area of my life where I most experience despair and need to find hope, and also where I see others going through it too. It’s easy to look at the world and miss the hope, but I believe hope is always there; it’s just sometimes you have to search hard to find it. Here are a few of the places where I find hope.
Perspective is the most important thing with hope – sometimes all we see are the surrounding mountains, but if we lift our perspective, we see these are just small landscape features. There are even bigger problem mountains behind them. If we stop there, we really can fall into despair. But keep shifting your perspective; they are tiny compared to the size of the planet, the solar system, the universe, and the God who made it all, who IS Love. That God, who is Love, is ultimately behind anything we do for love and justice, and is so much bigger and more powerful than all we are up against!
‘Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders work in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). There’s a promise in this – God is building a ‘house’ of justice, restored relationships. Working with God to build it is truly meaningful. Work that resists it is ultimately all done in vain. All sorts of things succeed in this world – but what does it matter if all your success builds is an eternal loss? Work for God’s kingdom is eternally significant and valuable, whatever it looks like in the eyes of others’ views of ‘success’. If I work for something of eternal significance, and ‘fail’ in my lifetime, I still succeed if I’m building with God. Maybe I get nowhere – but I’ll have at least been part of the process of bringing in the Kingdom, rather than building barriers to it and succeeding at that.
Everything we do to tackle injustice, or climate change, or any wrong, matters. Even if it only has a tiny impact on a huge situation, it’s still made the world a tiny bit better – or even a tiny bit less bad! That matters! God sees the small things, and if your small thing helps someone, you’ve helped them, regardless of how big a thing it was. It’s still worth trying.
Looking backwards is another important way to get perspective – we tend to only see the now, and the future, and get scared and overwhelmed at the scale of what we face and the seemingly bleak prospect. But if we look back, we can see the progress we’ve made. Sometimes it’s small (a small tweak to an unjust trade law), sometimes it’s significant (achieving votes for women), but if you look, progress is always there. It gives us the encouragement we need to keep pressing on.
Activism feels like a whole world of collapsing sandcastles, as every little project we try to make the world better seems to fall apart – but just occasionally, something amazing happens and we stop the tide. We need to hang onto those moments, remember that they happen sometimes and really are possible.
Today feels uniquely hopeless, like the world has never fallen so low or things have never been so bad, and it doesn’t look like it’s possible to ever make things better. Again, look back. You know you’ve felt this way before, it isn’t the first time. The world was always at least this much of a mess, so were you, so was your life. But in different ways! The things that were bad before have got better in most cases. There have truly been good times. Progress has happened in all sorts of unexpected ways, and the most entrenched problems, conflicts and injustices have begun to be overcome. We’ll do it again if we persevere, there’s always hope.
Think about mustard seeds and trees (Mark 4:30-32). The coming Kingdom looks like a weed – which is what a mustard plant looks like if we’re honest. It’s a mess, it’s in the way, it lacks potential. No-one knows where it came from. No-one can get rid of it though. It once looked like a little seed, and if we look back we can see how it has grown. But the really amazing thing is what’s promised – that this present ‘weed’ will, improbably and imperceptibly, become the greatest tree and the best of shelters for all creatures.
The promises for the destiny of this world are mind bending in their scale of restoration of all things (Colossians 1:15-20, Revelation 21:1-5) – hang onto them! Whatever now looks like, this is what’s coming.