With all the astonishing events unfolding in recent weeks, I’ve been thinking about hope and wonder, the difference between them, and the importance of both of them. A couple of weeks ago, those churches that follow the common three-year lectionary cycle heard, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).
Hope is a simple four-letter word that carries an ocean’s worth of depth and a mountain’s worth of aspiration. What is hope? Why do we need it? How do we get it when we run out of it? Do you ever experience the universe seeming to line up to deliver some message to you? You may find that threads of a conversation combine with random lines from a book you’re reading, or something you hear on a radio talk show, or a podcast. You flip through a magazine and stumble upon an article on the same topic you’ve been thinking about. Could that be evidence that hope for a particular outcome is not an exercise in futility? Perhaps those are stage whispers that you’re on the right path or warnings that you’re heading down the wrong one.
Hope and Wonder
From Susan Jeffers in her helpful book, Embracing Uncertainty, I gleaned the helpful suggestion to focus less on things I hope will happen and more on wondering about the ways in which things are unfolding. Replace “I hope x will happen” with “I wonder if x will happen” and observe if your stress level doesn’t go down a notch or two. This modest change in self-talk has been helpful to me as I navigate my way through the current things unfolding in my life.
Among them is the act that I am approaching the final descent in the long process of publishing my next book, a fictional biography of Mary Brewster. She was one of the 102 people on the Mayflower who sailed in 1620 full of hopes for how grand life would be in the New (to them) World. Many of those hopes were dashed along the journey, yet they kept going.
I’m in the “Put your seatbacks upright and close your tray tables” stage of this book’s journey. The publisher and I are approaching the gate to the published version of her story. It’s been a very long journey. I think this particular project started about the time COVID turned the world upside down and inside out. All those months confined to the house gave me extra hours to experiment with various approaches to telling Mary’s story.
Sources of Hope
I often wonder how Mary Brewster endured the turmoil leading up to her Mayflower voyage, the treacherous crossing, and starting over again far from home with virtually no resources. What kept her going? One obvious answer is that she had no viable other choices. She was a wife in the 16th and 17thcenturies. Her options were pretty limited. Plus, she was part of a Separatist community that placed a lot of emphasis on fully committing one’s fate to the Lord as they understand the nature of a divine being. Men did all the planning and leading. Women bore and raised the children and made things run as smoothly as possible at home with whatever resources they had available. She would have been trained from toddlerhood to defer to the wishes and decisions of the men. Still, as I’ve tried to wrap myself in her apron, I’ve been wondering about her sources of hope.
I recently sent the latest draft of her story to a handful of Beta readers who will review what I and the publisher have concocted about her story. These pre-publication readers will render their opinions, and we’ll make more adjustments to the story based on their feedback. Her story will go through another revision. And then, maybe – dare I say hopefully? – she may be ready for publication. But rather than hope for a certain publication date, after missing several previous potential dates, I now wonder when the book will be published. It is amazing how substituting the word “wonder” for “hope” has reduced my mental pressure to push to get her delivered by an arbitrary deadline. We’re aiming for quality over arbitrary deadlines.
Connection Between Prayer and Hope
Recently I came upon a few insights about the nature of hope in an article in Mysterious Ways by Dr. Steven Sandage, a professor of theology and psychology at Boston University. He explores and teaches about the connections between spirituality and mental health, especially in regard to hope. He defines hope as, “an active anticipation in the ability to reach desired goals. It requires a willingness to put energy toward those goals.”
He writes about a connection between prayer and hope. Prayers that focus on petitions for something specific sometimes result in a negative effect on being hopeful. Specific petitions repeated requisitions for the same outcome do not result in the hoped-for results. On the other hand, he writes that contemplative prayers that focus more on meditation, and less on requests, tend to lead to a deeper sense of peace and encourage a sense of hopefulness.
What Gives You Hope?
In other words, we may hope that something will happen, and take steps to try to make what we want to actually happen. But if we can relax a bit, and focus on wondering how it might unfold, we reduce the potential of experiencing discouragement and a sense of defeat. I hope the Mary Brewster book may soon be completed and published. While I wait, I focus on wondering how it will all come together.
What gives you hope? We all need hope to keep going. A life without hope is not a life worth living. What helps you find and retain hope? These are a few habits that have proven helpful for me in my quest to remain hopeful, especially when situations look anything but hopeful.
*Regular quiet time – aka meditation, prayer, or reflection. By whatever term, I try to spend some time each day sitting and marveling at the world around me.
*Conversations with members of my circle of confidants – people who have the gift of listening without needing to try to solve anything; but rather just connect.
*Reading inspirational articles and books or listening to them through the multiple modern avenues available.
*Walking around the neighborhood or in a park and observing nature.
*Planting or tending to things already planted.
*Feeding the birds.
*Putting something in order – a drawer, shelf, or closet.
I hope you find sources for hope in the midst of whatever life tosses you these days.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy reading about Mary Brewster. Consider sharing this with a friend, or sign up to receive your own blogs at HowWiseThen. and join our growing on-line community.
Read more about the trials and triumphs of the Mayflower passengers in my historical novel, Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale or Two Cultures. It is available in numerous libraries and for sale in electronic, print, and audio format at these places: