I was listening to a podcast conversation with Brene’ Brown, and she shared a discovery she’d gotten from another researcher, that “hope is a function of struggle.”
She paused to let the idea sink in, because that’s an unusual way of talking about hope.
We often describe hope in spite of our struggles, or say that it’s been hard not to lose hope when so many terrible things are going on. Hope in this sense is opposed to struggle and hardship.
By contrast, Brown is promoting the idea that, actually, hope is only possible because we have struggles in our lives.
She speaks of students she’s known as a university professor the past 15 years. In the post-9/11 world, she’s observed fear shaping the choices of families, with many parents going to great lengths to protect their kids from hardship and uncertainty. The impulse is to take instability and struggle out of your kids’ lives. But the students Brown meets who have never faced any real adversity are the most hopeless people she’s encountered.
Hope is a sense that a new and better day is possible, a claim we can only make if we’ve experienced hardship and not given up.
Hope happens when we face and engage fearful things, even though we’d rather run away or build protective walls. It is what happens when we truly grapple with the worst of what the world can bring, when we take action, work hard, trust ourselves and our partners and God, that we will be able to persevere and thrive.
Hope not only faces today’s trouble, it anticipates tomorrow’s, believing that new challenges in a new day, can be met with renewing strength and courage.
The apostle Paul wrote that ‘we rejoice in hope’ but he also said that ‘we rejoice in suffering’. He said, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into us.” Romans 5:3-4
This is a difficult truth to accept, because none of us seeks out affliction, or wishes to see our loved ones suffer. And yet, we understand the principle on a deep level.
Our greatest lessons come from heartbreaking failure. Our greatest achievements are things which seemed impossible until we achieved them. Our best friends are the ones that stayed with us through the worst times. And many (most?) of the defining moments in our lives are times of great struggle, when we are very near despair. We say these are the things that made us who we are today.
So today, if you are facing challenges that seem to overwhelm you, don’t run away. Struggle.
If there are forces aligned against you, seemingly greater than any response you could summon, don’t build walls to hide behind. Struggle.
If great divides must be crossed, but you cannot fathom how to build the bridges, don’t despair. Struggle.
If the world you are meant to serve seems broken beyond any help you have to offer, don’t stop before you try. Struggle.
If the work you are called to do is as terrifying as it is indispensible, don’t seek escape. Don’t move to Canada. Don’t lock yourself away in a prison of comfort. Don’t binge-watch stupid t.v. to pretend everything’s fine. Don’t check out.
Don’t avoid the struggle; engage it. Commit to the hard work of forging a new day, a new way.
You might just find that in the hardest times, the bleakest season, you are most fully alive, and truly a person of hope.