Growing Edges: Keeping Hope Alive: Radical Courage in Everyday Life Part 3

Humanly speaking, despair is presumptuous.*

Several years ago, I a conference on hope at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.  Sponsored by what was then the Institute of Religion, the topic of hope and its importance were addressed by a priest, a pastoral counselor, a minister. a [physician, a nurse and various professionals in the area of mental health.  Dr. Bruce Perry addressed the issues of hope and hopelessness in children, especially those who had experienced trauma, neglect or abuse.  To this day, what Dr. Perry said impacted me profoundly and forever.

Dr. Perry is an author and a psychiatrist and is currently the Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston.  He is a leading authority on the treatment of childhood trauma.

Besides explaining how childhood trauma, neglect and abuse can affect the process of brain development in children, Dr. Perry brilliantly laid out in his presentation what happens when a child loses hope.  Hopelessness in a child can affect a child’s ability to survive, and certainly, to thrive.  When a child loses hope, Perry said, the child dies.

In the first column in this series of columns on Keeping Hope Alive, I mentioned that we who are the adults in the world and especially in a child’s world have a responsibility to speak hopefulness and act with hope, and I suggested that while we do that for ourselves, we do it because the children of our world are watching.  They take their cues from us.

In this column I want to emphasize that I believe that hope, unlike wishful thinking or wishing on a star, is a profound spiritual grace.  I will write more about that as at a later time.


As my mentor and friend Madeleine L’Engle used to say, “The great thing about growing older is that you can still be all the ages you have been.”

In the language of  Transactional Analysis, each of us has within us an adult, a parent and a child. and at any given time, any one of us can be acting from either of those positions.

I am suggesting that the adult, hopefully rational and responsible part of ourselves needs to live and think and speak in such a way as to keep hope alive for the child who still lives in us.   I have seen that when an adult is traumatized that adult can lose the energy and sometimes even the ability to survive and thrive.  When the inner child is hurting and is traumatized severely or over a long period of time, the person can, regardless of her age, become hopeless.

When an adult loses hope, she stops growing and learning.

When an adult becomes hopeless, he loses his reason to keep on living, keep on trying, keep on loving.   It is hard to risk, take appropriate chances and pursue a dream or a calling if you lose hope.   It is hard to start over again when you have lost everything you have.

When an adult’s primary response to life is despair, he begins to wither up, become bitter and often die, either emotionally or literally.

How is it, then, that with the news of the economy in the most severe downward trend since the Great Depression and the corona virus taking more lives every day, we can live with any degree of hope?  What is to keep us from falling into despair, depression and disbelief in life, itself?


If underneath all the external problems is a spiritual problem, which I happen to believe is true, then the first step back to keeping hope alive has to be to either re-engage or deepen whatever spiritual practice or discipline that is in your tradition.   If you feel powerless over life, then the next thing to do is to admit that  powerlessness as a confession, if you will, and then consider the possibility that a power greater than yourself can restore your life to you.

The third thing is to surrender the control of your will and your life to God, as you understand him.  Every day.  Or every hour.  And start over again when you feel yourself slipping back down into the pit of despondency or hopelessness.

In the language of my Twelve Step friends, “turn it over to God” and “let go (of the fear, confusion, anger, etc.) and let God” (help you).

In 2016, as I was working on my book Practicing Resurrection:  Radical Hope in Difficult Times, the outer world was in a new season of chaos and I was deeply worried about particularly hard personal issues.  At one point, I put my head in my hands and this thought rushed to the front of my mind:  How on earth can I write a book on hope when I have such disappointment and despair in my own life?

Instantly, I knew what I had to do.  It was as if my lament had been a prayer and the next thought was a nudge or an answer.   I knew that I must deepen my practice of Centering Prayer, the meditation practice taught by Fr. Thomas Keating and that I must look for signs of hope in the outer world every day.

Because I was in such a state of despair and because that inner guidance had come to me so immediately and forcefully, I began to follow that guidance.  Amazingly, as I did my part with my prayer practice, something or someone in the outer world  crossed my path every single day, giving me a reason to believe — believe in God’s love, God’s provision and God’s timing.  (I’m not saying that hope came alive in me all of a sudden; hope was restored by my doing what I knew best to do over and over.)

The most important thing I do every day to keep hope alive is to honor that directive to stay connected to God as I understand him and watch how some gift of beauty or wonder or awe crosses my path, reminding me that however awful things are or how wobbly my faith is on that day, God still holds the whole world in his hands.

Centering Prayer is the way I open my mind and my heart and consent to the presence and action of God in my whole being.  It is the way I “put my hand in the hand of the One who calmed the waters….who parted the Red Sea…and who turned water into wine.”

The adult in me needs to care fully for the child in me, comforting, consoling and guiding me through the morass of this crazy, confusing time.

The child in me sometimes needs to cry to remind the adult in me that it is OK to cry when it is time to cry and that it is OK for me to ask for the help I need when I am frightened and feel alone.  My friends, this pandemic and all it has brought with it is cry-worthy.  

Who needs the touch of life, a word of hope, a compassionate presence in your life right now?

Who gives you presence when you feel afraid?  Whose hand can steady you when you wobble?  Whose voice do you need to hear when you are afraid?

God works through each of us, lending our minds, our hearts and our hands out to keep hope alive.

Grace to you —


  • The first person I heard say that despair is presumptuous was my friend and teacher John Claypool.   Later, I discovered that those words of encouragement were spoken by an old Rabbi to a man who felt that his life situation was hopeless.   The Rabbi said this:   I need to tell you that to a Jew there is only one unforgivable sin and that is the sin of despair.  To say that any situation is hopeless, to say that there is nothing redemptive that can possibly be done; that is simply not a position to be tenable.  Humanly speaking, despair is presumptuous.  It is saying something about reality that we finite human beings have no right to say because we don’t know everything….Despair is presumptuous because we are finite beings incapable of knowing all that we need to know…We are not aware of all that God has in mind.”

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. — Isaiah 26:3

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *