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Draw near: Praying for hope

Lynne Baab • Tuesday May 2 2023

Draw near: Praying for hope

“Hope is optimism with a broken heart.”
—Nick Cave, Australian singer, songwriter, screenwriter, and occasional actor inFaith, Hope and Carnage, co-authored with Sean O’Hagan. [1]

I have written before about the toxic optimism I was raised with, an optimism that makes no room for emotions of sadness, anger, and fear. As a result of the tension between my own intense emotions and an atmosphere that negated them, I have struggled my whole life to figure out what exactly God desires related to a positive outlook, optimism, and hope. 

I resonated with Nick Cave’s perception that hope is connected to both optimism and a broken heart. My heart is broken about so many things. I cannot embrace a form of hope or optimism that does not make room for my heartfelt sadness that so much pain exists in our world. 

In an article about the relevance of the biblical book Lamentations for today, Rabbi Shai Held, president and dean of the Hadar Institute in New York, writes:

“Sometimes the healthiest, most courageous posture is to admit uncertainty and embrace it. We are commanded to act with hope but also to be honest about when hopelessness threatens to consume us. Perhaps, in giving voice to our anguish, we paradoxically create glimmers of hope.” [2]

Nick Cave and Rabbi Held affirm that God does not ask us to embrace a form of hope that denies uncertainty, hopelessness, and our broken hearts. Rabbi Held also indicates that honesty about hopelessness and anguish might paradoxically create glimmers of hope. Another way to connect hope with human emotions comes from a quotation often attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo, who lived around 400 years after Christ: 

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” 

When we hold hope in the midst of an awareness that the world is damaged and broken, we (hopefully) feel the kind of anger and courage that motivates us to help bring wholeness and healing to people in pain. 

I love a phrase proposed by poet Elizabeth Gilbert: “stubborn gladness.” [3] She uses those words to describe an attitude toward life that looks for beauty and joy in challenging times.  If we can find beauty and joy here, in this current painful situation, then we can expect to see it again. That expectation is one way to describe hope.

Writer Anne Lamott also uses the word “stubborn” in her idea of stubborn hope: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” [4] 

I totally resonate with Anne Lamott’s need for hope to begin in the dark. Archbishop Desmond Tutu also contrasts light and darkness in writing about hope: “Hope is being able to see there is light despite all of the darkness.”

I see a lot of ways I might pray in response to these diverse quotations about hope. I can pray for the kind of stubborn gladness that nurtures hope, and I can pray for stubborn hope that looks for light in the darkness and that waits expectantly and faithfully for the dawn.

I can pray that I would develop hope’s two daughters — anger and courage — and allow them to fuel actions of justice to work for change. I can pray that I would grow in viewing anger as a fuel for action rather than as a shameful emotion that people (especially women) shouldn’t experience or express.

I can pray that I would know how to respond lovingly and firmly when I hear people advocating total optimism as the most important approach to life. I can pray that God would help me embrace the kind of hope that Nick Cave describes, optimism with a broken heart.

I can pray that I would sit with the psalm writers who bring so many emotions to God. I can pray that the Holy Spirit would nurture hope inside me even as I express hopelessness to God, trusting in the way God brings about reversals in so many areas.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
—Romans 15:13

(Next week: praying to listen to our bodies. Illustration by Dave Baab: Kinloch, Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

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[1] Quoted in “Missionary of Grief” by Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, Christian Century, Februrary 2023, 93.
[2] Shai Held, “Pandemic reading,” Christian Century, October 21, 2020, 26.
[3] Elizabeth Gilbert, “In Praise of Stubborn Gladness” in Light in the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, edited by Joe Fassler, New York: Penguin Books, 2017, 15-21.
[4] As far as I can tell from searching online, these words originated when Anne Lamott posted them on Twitter. See, something good can come from social media! Perhaps the quotation is from one of her books.

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