I often meet people who tell me, implicitly or explicitly, that they have lost hope — hope of ever getting out of a pattern of bad relationships, hope of ever finding a partner, hope of ever feeling whole or vibrant again. Or that they simply find it dangerous to hope. Hopes can be crushed, after all.
I’ve been there and can understand what it’s like to feel stuck, like a better situation is forever eluding you, making you want to just throw in the towel.
Here I lean on a song and a pair of quotes that remind you how to manage this mode and move forward. Read on.
First, the song
A Change Is Gonna Come, a song by Sam Cooke, inspired this post. It wafted across a cafe I was working at. An anthem of the civil rights movement, it carries a universal message of hope. Give it a listen or check out the lyrics.
In the song, Cooke admits vulnerably that he’s been having to struggle all his life, that his pleas have been rejected many a time, that there have even been times when he thought he couldn’t last for long. His story reminds us that darkness is the natural birthplace of hope.
Yet, even as his voice quivers authentically in admitting his troubles, there isn’t a note of despondency. Indeed, as the song progresses, you hear him grow ever more confident that “a change is gonna come.”
Cooke thereby demonstrates a healthy sort of hope. One borne not out of a sense of misery about his past or present, or from needy longing for a future that will make everything alright, but out of a faith that life is kind and will self-adjust (even if, admittedly, some change takes multiple generations).
And so we are reminded of something we know intuitively but can forget quite easily. Namely that like a puzzle forever falling into place, life balances itself out, and our job is to accept as well as expect both the dark and the light.
Imagine, further, if Cooke hadn’t admitted his troubles. The song wouldn’t have had even a fraction of its majesty. It is because he has confronted and accepted his pain that it no longer has power over him, paving the way for the change he hopes for.
The link between hope, truth, and healing
That kind of positive thinking is all well and good for a song, you might say, but harboring hopes in some situations is delusional.
Here I turn to a quote from an essay by Reverend Victoria Safford (plucked from this article) to explore the connection between hope and truth:
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be.
Implicit here is the idea that hope has to align with what you know in your heart to be true, otherwise it would not be hope at all. Rather it would be some delusion in which you either aim too high (and then feel disappointed) or aim too low (and then feel unsatisfied).
Genuine hope is therefore realistic and has an inevitability to it, even while it challenges you and transforms you.
As you nurture your hopes, you learn to accept the emotions that arise when things turn out differently than you wanted them to. You gain self-knowledge from what does transpire. You even appreciate the surprises. You develop a trust in life.
Spiritual teacher Jeff Foster puts it well (from The Way of Rest):
Great healing begins when we align with the universe exactly as it is, yet hold in our hearts the way we know it can be, and we simply stop comparing the two. Keep your eyes on the prize, but do not oppose the present moment — this is the great paradox of transformation, and the secret to changing the world by not changing it at all.
It isn’t easy to hold in your heart the way you want your life to be. It will also not be enough. You will have to do the inner work to continually align yourself with the truth. Hope is an intentional process, not a passive state, but one that is always rewarding.