Despair, Hope and Faith: Three Companions for the Journey
Despair is a part of the human experience. No one escapes the sorrow it brings or its other "companions." For instance, if we tend to blame other people for our place in life, anger will rise from the shadows of our souls and then call its companions of bitterness and resentment. Hatred may even appear. However, not all of despair's companions are barriers to our transformation. Wherever there is despair, hope is close at hand, and wherever there is hope, faith stands in readiness prepared to build a bridge to a new way of being and living.
Despair, hope, and faith are three companions we discover when we open ourselves to transformation. Hope and faith appear related to one another as if they were birthed by the same spiritual mother. It seems despair is an unwelcomed guest in this family. This is true, for no one knowingly invites despair into his experience. But like all aspects of life, despair can be a teacher that helps to reveal the way of transformation.
It must have been this way for President Lincoln as he led the nation during its darkest hours the Civil War that pitted brother against brother. Every casualty was American, people Mr. Lincoln had sworn to serve. He experienced despair, life without hope, and questioned if there was a way to preserve the Union. As the casualties mounted, so did his days of melancholy. However, hope was born in him not because of good news about the war, but because for just an instant he considered the possibility of peace and harmony in the nation once again. Like us, Abraham Lincoln experienced despair, but he also came to know that hope is born in the darkest times.
As many of us know, despair can be dark and deep. It can seem to be an eternal part of our lives, but hope is always close at hand. Hope is our first look away from the problem. When despair rules the day and the night, there seems to be no way out. We wonder if this feeling of hopelessness will ever pass. It is in moments like these that hope is born. There stirs in us the possibility of an answer. We wonder if life can be different.
It is hope that first challenges despair. Hope whispers that there is an answer, this too shall pass, life can be different from this. Hope has no vision of the new life that can be, or how the problem can be solved, but it knows there is an answer.
There is an Answer
For many years, I met weekly with people greatly challenged by life. Their problems dashed their dreams of the way life could be. I listened to their stories and opened my heart to them. We cannot feel what another person feels, but we can experience the oneness that exists because we all know despair and the pain it brings. Time and time again, I said, "There is an answer. Today, I don't know what it is, but I know that together we will find it." Hundreds and hundreds of times, I saw their heads lift and their eyes begin to come alive. A resolve began to form around the four words, there is an answer. Hope was born, and it had an immediate effect upon the person.
Hope is always present because it is the beginning of the journey of transformation. It may seem to live and then to die or not to live at all, but it is eternally present. Over the course of our lives, most of us will witness the life, death, and resurrection of hope many times. It comes into being quickly, but it can just as quickly be replaced by despair. If we believe that our pain has come to stay rather than to pass, hope fades, but let us consider for even a moment that life is destined to be more than it appears, and hope is born again.
Hope is needed by the human family. It keeps us going in difficult times. In fact, hope can be the only thing that keeps the hounds of despair at bay. Hope keeps us going, but it never gets us to where we want to go. This is the work of faith.
Hope is close to the human condition. It is one step removed from despair, fear, and anxiety. Faith is the bridge between hope and the answer and the new life that await us.
Faith in What?
Faith is a natural part of us, and we have all the faith we need right now. The question is in what do we have faith? Some people have faith only in what they see. Their belief in seen things often puts hope to death as soon as it appears because they judge by appearances. Hope and faith require a different vision, one willing to entertain the possibility of an unseen answer.
We have faith in many things, and many of them are unseen and uncertain. For instance, we have faith that when a traffic light turns green for us, it is red for other motorists at the intersection. However, faith is at its best when it is placed in the spiritual realm. When we have faith in God, a bridge forms over which the answer can come, as well as the resources, strength, and courage to face the challenge before us. These three, the answer, strength, and courage, rise from within us, for this is their dwelling place. This is the wonder of faith. It does not call down a capricious God to occasionally help us in times of need. It calls forth our God-given inner resources, and when they make themselves known, we are transformed.
It is faith in God that builds a bridge to all possibilities. Often we shy away from this step of transformation because it means we have to let go of what we think the answer should be. Faith acquaints us with mystery, an integral part of life that most of us don't want to meet. We want control, to know what we are facing, and what lies ahead. However, many things are beyond our control, and who really knows what lies ahead? Life is mysterious, and it is time we stop trying to strip away the mystery because when we do, we strip away the wonder and awe that are innate to life.
Faith is not knowing what is going to happen; it means knowing that no matter what happens, we are one with God and that all the wisdom, strength and courage we need are close at hand. When we embrace the mystery and invite it into our lives, we open our souls to experience the wonder of being alive. Life that we could not possibly imagine becomes our experience. We become sensitive to spiritual forces that are always present and to answers and insights that free us from bondage.
One evening I received a telephone call from a woman I hardly knew. She was in the hospital and had had a spiritual experience. She was gravely ill, but had experienced herself as spiritually whole. She was excited and free of fear and anxiety. She anticipated a physical healing, but it did not come. She died a day later.
I have wondered about this call. Some might say she did not have enough faith. I would disagree and say that we must let go of what we think is true. Having a sense of one's spiritual wholeness is a great gift. This is what I mean by embracing the mystery. Life is much more complex and much more simple than we know. Our determination to make it in our image does not allow faith to build the bridge to what can be.
If you have a challenge in your life now or if you are experiencing despair, first entertain the possibility that there is an answer. Allow yourself to think that this answer is so grand and wonderful that it is beyond human comprehension. Only a divine mind could reveal the next step. As you do this, you will feel the birth of hope. Hold to the idea that there is an answer, and hope will keep you going.
The next step is an act of faith. Cast aside any preconceived ideas you have about the way things must be. Remember, the answer is so grand that it is beyond your imagining. Spend some time each day in silent reflection and inner listening because spiritual forces tend to gather when hope is born, and we let go of having it our way. As you move through your daily activities, be sensitive to what you see and hear because answers will come in ways you have not known before. Notice that a peace accompanies you through the day. This is a sign that the bridge is forming. One day soon, the answer will come, but your joy will be more than the fact that you know what to do; rejoice that you have been transformed.
Jim Rosemergy is the Executive Vice President of the Unity School of Christianity, as well as an ordained Unity minister. He is the author of ten books on spiritual living, including "Daily Guide to Spiritual Living," "Closer Walk with God" and his most recent book, "The Transcendent Life." an exploration of the nature of true power and humility. He lives with his wife in Lee Summit, Missouri.