Last Advent, in the midst of a family crisis, I did not feel hopeful. More like cynical and terrified, actually. But I wanted to find a way to practice or cultivate hope as part of Advent. Is it possible to practice hope when despair seems easier or more realistic?
Turns out there is a good bit of research about the importance of hope. Hope is NOT positive thinking, but changing my mindset was foundational in cultivating hope. Paul claims in Romans 5:4 that hope is the final good that comes from the character that suffering can produce. Huh? Character produces hope?
If character is doing and thinking the right things, even in the midst of terrible circumstances or deep fear, then perhaps undertaking specific actions could foster hope. Maybe this was worth a try.
I came up with a list of items and asked my family to help me stay accountable in practicing hope. I wrote down a list of action steps on the glass of the French door by the breakfast table. We each chose an item every day to practice and agreed to talk about our experiences.
This activity didn’t eliminate my fear, but I did feel hopeful that I was doing something. Maybe I could tweak my feelings. Maybe I could experience Advent in a new way. Maybe I could lighten my darkness. Maybe I could celebrate the coming of the Light of the World with a new appreciation for both light and darkness.
Maybe you can, too.
- Read a positive story about someone helping others.
- Call a friend who is hopeful or will make you laugh.
- Do something kind for a stranger.
- Give a compliment to every coworker today.
- Think of a different thing you are grateful for at every stoplight or stop sign.
- Journal about ways God has helped you in the past.
- Reframe one automatic pessimistic thought about a specific situation or person.
- Write a positive post card or note to someone.
- Reconnect with nature by taking a short walk, watching the clouds, listening to the birds, counting the stars.
- Adopt a positive breath prayer in the form of a simple, memorable phrase or sentence, and say it 10 to 20 times throughout the day.
A few examples: My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. Abba, I belong to you. Holy One, heal me. I am God’s beloved child. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
- Decide on one goal for 2020. Write it down and think about action steps for that goal.
- Watch a funny cat or dog video on YouTube – really!
- Pray a sentence prayer all day for someone else.
- Visualize a happy image, place or situation for 30 seconds.
- Keep a list of all the positive things that happened today.
- Fast from TV, radio, or Internet news.
- Make Romans 15:13 your prayer just before sleep.
May the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Engage in conversations about what gives people hope and what practices cultivate hope.
- Plant a winter bulb that will bloom inside and watch it grow.
- Tell someone a specific prayer need and ask them to pray for you.
A year later, my family crisis has passed. But in a world that seems dangerously out of control, I have other compelling reasons to commit to cultivating hope. Maybe you do, too. After all, as Paul points out in Romans 5:5, “hope does not disappoint.”
May we all find the truth of the power of hope during this Advent and throughout the coming year.