Hope Bandits

A few weeks ago, I started a series on hope. To be perfectly transparent, I did it because I really need hope right now. Don’t worry, I’m okay. It’s just that it seems like I have needed hope more than I ever have before. Times are difficult and hope seems to be in short supply. Part of the reason why I need hope so badly, and perhaps you do too, is because there are way too many hope bandits out there.

I’m not sure what your home life is like, but in mine, only the strongest survive. Sure, you might think that is overly dramatic, and it is, but let me give you an example.

Let’s say you go to the store to buy a six pack of your favorite soda. I know, soda is bad for you, I seldom drink it except a little on the weekends. It is a guilty pleasure. My soda of choice is Dr. Pepper. Not Dr. Thunder or Mr. Pibb, those guys are hacks. I’m talking about the PHD of sodas here, Dr. Pepper. When I buy soda for myself, I will at times buy soda for other people in my house who are soda fiends. Namely my kids. Their soda will get consumed rather quickly. Mine, on the other hand, because I drink it sparingly, will stick around for awhile. However, if I do not hide it, certain soda bandits will raid my stash and guzzle my favorite fizzy water.

Over time, I’ve learned that if I don’t hide the DP, there will be none left for me. That’s one of my life’s mottos. Not really. My point is, my kids don’t really even like Dr. Pepper but unless I hide it, which I’ve reached expert levels of, it will mysteriously disappear.

As you can imagine, the same goes for candy, ice cream and anything that has sugar in it. On average, I’m not much of a sweets kind of guy, but when I do have them (said in my “most interesting man in the world” voice), I prefer to not have it stolen. Only the strongest survive. Something that I really enjoy gets snatched right out from under my nose. If I’m not careful, when I want a delicious can of PHD soda, or my favorite dessert, I will not have it.

What’s my point you may be asking? When it comes to hope, there are a few things that will steal your hope right out from under your nose. When we need it most, it will not be there because you have willingly allowed “Hope Bandits” to take your hope away from you. I am guilty of this as well. I don’t think we do this on purpose, and in most cases we don’t even realize that the things we are doing result in hopelessness, but it happens.

To be clear, I am talking about the things we do or allow, not necessarily things that happen to us that are outside of our control. Things like the loss of a loved one or abuse are separate issues that need the help of a counselor or a professional therapist to work through.

Here are just a few “Hope Bandits” to be aware of:

  1. Shame. This is different from feeling guilty about something. To be fair, guilt can be healthy and a good thing as long as it doesn’t lead to shame and you aren’t taking on the burden of someone else’s guilt. That’s another topic for another day. That being said, if you’ve done something to hurt someone, or there were unintended consequences for a decision that you made that you did not see coming, it is only right to feel guilty about it. That’s why apologizing and forgiveness is an essential part of a healthy spiritual life. It is good to make amends for it or at least have a conversation with someone in attempts to make peace. In which case, guilt moved you to make things right. That’s not a bad thing. However…

Shame is guilt run amuck.

When you feel shame, there is a good possibility that you have wallowed in guilt for far too long, without taking any action to resolve it. Certainly, you can feel shame for something in your past that you could not control, that obviously is not your fault. However, healing can come when you decide to deal with that shame rather than sit in it for a long time.

Here’s another Hope Bandit…

2. Blame. When you begin to feel shame or you are hurt by something that happens, it is natural to want to resolve that tension some how. An unhealthy way to resolve that feeling is blame.

Blame is the “fast food” of conflict resolution.

The “convenient” part about blame is that you don’t even need to talk to someone in order to do it. You can begin blaming someone else for your issues right away without involving anyone else. That person may not even know that you have begun to assign responsibility for your hurt.

Certainly there are times when someone else IS responsible for your suffering, I’m not talking about that. Putting the responsibility of your pain on the correct person is the right thing to do, even if that person is you. Where this becomes a problem is when you form a consistent pattern where blame becomes your reflex for dealing with pain.

Blame affects your ability to deal with hurt appropriately, and it infects your relationship with other people.

Blame is an ugly version of assigning responsibility. When we place responsibility on ourselves or the person who hurt us, we are simply thinking correctly about our circumstances. Blame is filled with vitriol and negative emotions. If you use this as a coping mechanism regularly, it keeps you stationary and leaves you stuck in your circumstances.

On to hope bandit #3…

3. Fear. Fear whispers in your ear that everything is not going to be okay. It subtly and sometimes blatantly tells you “No one loves you and everyone is out to get you”. Consistent fear trains your brain to assume that Murphy’s Law is a thing. There are people that I love dearly who struggle with chronic anxiety, I am not talking about this.

That is a separate issue and should be addressed separately.

I am talking to people who stoke fear in order to motivate others to do what they want. If you consistently motivate people with fear or motivate yourself through fear, it will end up stealing your hope and your joy. If you don’t chronically struggle with anxiety and yet you continually open the door to fear the worst, hopelessness is a logical result. This happens through an addiction to bad news, doom scrolling on Twitter and only talking to other people about how bad life is.

Certainly, we have to discuss horrible things that we fear and to come up with solutions to the problems that plague us. I am not suggesting we take a naive approach to the world we are living in or not talking about what we are struggling with. I am suggesting that we adopt a more positive outlook on our future.

4. Bitterness. This is a big one. In a culture that often stokes fear and anger, bitterness is ever present. Bitterness is a deadening of the soul that happens after we soak in anger for too long. It is sort of a spiritual frostbite from overexposure to hatred and hostility. It is dangerous because it not only results in a loss of hope, it also creates apathy. When apathy sets in, we look for distractions to help us forget that we have stopped caring. This also keeps us stuck in our current set of circumstances without taking steps to improve.

5. Bogus Hope. That’s where bogus hope comes in. We create faux hope when we rely on distractions to keep us from feeling. This gives us the false sense that everything is okay. Full disclosure here, I do this through playing stupid games on my phone too much. It numbs my brain and it helps me to not think about things too much. Don’t get me wrong, I think distractions like Netflix, apps, some social media and watching Youtube can be a good thing. It helps you reset a little bit. I’m talking about full blown addiction to these things in an effort to not deal with your suffering.

So, how do you set the burglar alarm, lock the door or put up hope barricades to these bandits? Here are two suggestions that are pretty common sense applications.

  1. Manage the Damage. Some people might tell you to eliminate these things from your life entirely. I’ve reached the age to where I realize that there will be elements of this present in your life for as long as you draw breath. Our job is to manage them well. To be clear, I do not think that any of them are good or appropriate expressions of a love for God or others. I’m just aware of how impossible it is to expel them completely from existence. We need to learn how to live alongside of them while not allowing them to take over our lives. Keep tabs on how prevalent these Hope Bandits are in your life. Rate them on a scale from 1-10.

2. Create Space for Hope. Incorporate hopeful disciplines. We have already talked about a few of them in previous posts so I won’t go into all of them. Suffice to say, keeping the big picture in mind, having divine optimism and using your new creation imagination, will get you far. Here are a few others. I know its corny but think of it as a RAFT that will help you keep hope afloat in your life.

Reflection. When we take stock in the hope of our past, it is a great reminder that what God has done, He will do again. We don’t know how or when, but we know that He is with us and a He is a God of hope.

Acceptance is an underrate discipline. For the record, acceptance and resignation are not the same thing. Throwing up your hands and exclaiming “What’s the point?!” really doesn’t get you anywhere. However, accepting that life has changed and finding new ways to navigate it can be life giving. You might even find a healthier way to live as a result.

Forgiveness is a practice that is often difficult but necessary in order for hope to thrive. You don’t need permission, you don’t have to justify it, just forgive them. They don’t even have to know about it. However, if it helps to discuss it with them, and you are in a good place with it, proceed with caution and grace.

Taking personal responsibility for the hurt or disappointment that you have caused is another. This is really hard. We often know that we are the cause of some of our own pain but saying it out-loud or admitting it, is excruciating…but it is also freeing.

All of these leave room for hope by creating space for it to thrive. They make hope more than just a nice feeling. Hope is a reality that we are all participating in together by making a better future.

Thanks for joining me here in this space for awhile. I HOPE to see you again next week.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13

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