Social media sites are full of pictures of parents and grandparents beaming as they hold new babies. Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist declared his hope in God. It is fitting that Jesus comes as a baby. Hope is a forward looking activity. What better way to hope in the future than to see a newborn full of possibilities? Of course, at the time of his birth few foresaw what would unfold for Jesus in the next few decades. Yet some came with hope.-- there were shepherds and wise men. Christmas is a time to reflect on hope.
To nurture the possibilities within any child, parents must devote considerable time and energy and personal resources. Parents are often tired and seek assistance from family and friends. Nurturing hope is an investment in the future. And for Christians, hope lives on beyond the lifespan.
In some cultures, the emphasis is on individuals and what they can accomplish if they work hard. Other cultures emphasize group effort and teamwork. In Christian culture, the metaphors are often about family. A family that includes God. Hope is bound up in joint efforts to pursue kingdom goals. Christians are known by their love, which is often expressed in meeting the needs of the poor and ministering to those who are ill. Christians are quick to forgive and encourage those who feel hopeless.
As I write, many people in the Philippines have suffered great losses. In my current hometown, an agency motivated to help people in need is aptly named Convoy of Hope. It was encouraging to see that they were on the move when Typhoon Haiyan hit. On their web page they have a motivating phrase, "A Driving Passion to Feed the World." It takes a great team of staff, volunteers, and donors to offer hope to others.
Hope in Two Parts
Hopeful people focus on goals
The late C. R. Snyder studied hope for years. Hope seems to have twin dimensions. He called the first hope dimension, pathways thinking. Hopeful people focus on goals. And goals can be short-term or long-term. People with a high level of hope generate new ways to reach goals when a particular pathway is blocked. Hopeful people sometimes join with others in the pursuit of common aims. Hopeful people persist in the face of adversity.
Hopeful people are motivated
The second dimension of hope is agency thinking. Agency thinking is about motivation. Hopeful people feel empowered to accomplish their goals. Hopeful people can say with Paul, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV).
Hopeful people are usually happy and joyful. Hopeful people are more forgiving and compassionate. The barriers in life become challenges to overcome. Hope works like an inner cycle that propels us forward. Hopeful thinking links to positive feelings and action. Accomplishments encourage us to do more and increase our sense of hope.
Parents help children become hopeful when they help children see the connection between hard work and positive outcomes. Snyder believed that for children to become hopeful they needed a strong attachment to their parents. Attachment is a significant part of what it means to love another.
It’s not surprising that the advent themes of hope, joy, love, and peace are bound together and presented to us in the form of a baby who holds out the promise of hope for the future. It is also fitting that in our calendar, the common goal-setting that occurs at the New Year is only a few weeks away. Advent is a great time to enjoy the present and consider what lies ahead with a sense of hope-- God is with us. Immanuel.
My hope is, in You Lord
All the day long
I won't be shaken by drought or storm
peace that passes understanding
And I singMy hope is in You, Lord
Aaron Shust- My Hope Is In You
Aaron Shust sings My Hope Is In You
C. R. Snyder held a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. He was a psychological scientist at the University of Kansas until his death in 2006. He published on many topics including hope and forgiveness. You can find a list of books and articles about hope on the linked web page.