Hope and bread crumbs
I’ve spent the past year, on and off, writing about hope—the resilient force that guides us through the storms, reminds us of our strength, and urges us to keep going, no matter what. It’s what my next book is about, and I had no idea I’d need it now so much. Most of the time I write to uncover truths I know deep down but have yet to put into words. Simply put: I write to learn.
In the process of writing this book, I feel like Hope and I have gone from acquaintances to close friends, and it’s been both healing and comforting. It will probably be months before I’ve finished the book (maybe longer) but I wanted to share an excerpt now, while Hope is so needed, to maybe offer you the same peace it’s giving me.
With everything happening around the world right now, it would be easy to stay in the company of fear and despair. But now more than ever we need Hope and it’s stabilizing strength and support.
In the midst of uncertainty and devastation, you might have been told to not lose hope. Or maybe sometimes you've been quick to describe today or life or even yourself as hopeless.
But if, in this moment or the next, Hope feels lost and you're ready to find it again, it helps to understand this:
Hope is unwavering. It is patient. Persistent. Firm.
So it will never be Hope that gets bored and leaves you for something shiny and new. Hope can't be bullied by fear or uncertainty or rough patches. And it will certainly never be convinced that the world, even a scary or difficult one, is without faith and love.
When darkness is closing in and you're desperate to be in Hope's light once again, you must realize, now more than ever, it's not Hope that goes missing and gets lost. We do. It's you and I who wander off and get caught up in doubt and carried away by fear, until we look around and realize, like a distracted toddler lost in the grocery store, we're suddenly unsure where our safety has gone.
Still it's surprising how easy it is to think you've lost Hope. You can send out positive vibes and thank our lucky stars for even the littlest of blessings and boldly move forward with (cautious) optimism.
And yet it happens. In the blink of an eye your world feels like it's ending and next thing you know you're collapsed in a Hope-less puddle of despair, paralyzed from progress.
What to do (and not to do)
The temptation of the "despair puddle" is to rest. To stop resisting. To maybe even lean in for a seemingly refreshing gulp or two. Climbing life's mountains is exhausting, after all. In life this looks like pessimism, complete and total panic or simply giving up.
But the trouble with despair is the longer you stay, the bigger it gets. The puddle becomes a pond, then a lake, then an ocean. It grows until it's so wide and vast that it makes you believe you're surrounded by nothing but crashing waves and deep waters. Despair wants to convince you you've been washed away so far from your mountain that climbing is no longer an option. Its darkness demands that love couldn't possibly survive in its unending depths and that faith is irrelevant and futile.
Don't settle for despair, friend. Don't choose misery and resignation when in reality there's love all around you. Hop out of that puddle the moment you realize you're in one. Shake off those wet hiking boots. Let the steps you've already taken up the mountain be proof that you can, in fact, take a few more.
Hope holds its ground, so if we want to find happiness and relief during the storms we better do the same.
I once took an oil painting class in college.
Day one began with our teacher holding up a painting by a past student. The painting was of simple items: a striped tablecloth piled in a heap, a red apple, a shiny, glass bottle, a metal bowl, some bananas… But the finished piece was beautiful, realistic, and truly a work of art.
“What colors are in the bottle?” our teacher asked.
“Green.” The obvious answer.
“Look closer. What colors are in the bottle?”
At first glance the bottle was green. But looking closely—with an “artist’s eye” as my teacher called it—the glass bottle held a reflection of almost all the other items on the table. The white and black stripes of the tablecloth, the red in the apple, the grey of the bowl, the yellow of the bananas.
It’s a simple, somewhat insignificant piece of a memory from years ago. But for reasons I can only guess, it's stuck with me. How do you find the colors when life looks flat and colorless? How do you find Hope when life as you knew it seems to have vanished into thin air?
The ability to narrow your focus—having an artist's eye—seems to be key. Rather than looking at the bottle as a whole, it's easier to see white, black and red in its reflection when you zero in on one small portion of the glass surface and nothing else.
Seeing life's circumstances with an artist's eye means not letting the regrets of yesterday or fears of what could come tomorrow distract from the very things that would settle your heart and strengthen your resolve to confidently move forward now. In other words, trust that goodness is always there, then get to work looking for it.
I know it's far easier said than done. Really, I do. But that's what we must do if we want the stabilizing strength and support Hope brings.
I’ve heard it explained that Hope draws our attention to the possibility of good things to come. But more than once, it's glimpses of good things—spring flowers, a squeal of laughter, cozy blankets, a favorite scripture—that have pointed me back to Hope when I've found myself in a puddle of my own. Like a bright trail of bread crumbs they lead me through the swirling confusion back to my haven of surety and peace.
Life's mountains can get steep. The puddles of despair can get tricky to avoid. Fear and uncertainty can pull at you and tempt you. So narrow your focus. Look past the disappointments and unknowns to zero in on something better.
Smile at a happy memory. Move your body because you can. Fill a gratitude journal. Pray for peace. Encourage a friend. Let go of what isn't yours to decide or control. Write a thank you card. Gaze out the window until you've noticed something beautiful. Spend a day with no agenda and enjoy what unfolds. Forgive and forget. Create something from your heart and soul. Let the bread crumbs of love and courage and gratitude lead you through despair's rising tides.
Despair would have you believe that nothing good can come from this, and that you're not worth the trek Hope would have to make to find you again. But if you can see this moment with an artist's eye you'll realize despair's deception for what it is. You are never so far that you're beyond Hope's reach, and you are never without a trail of bread crumbs to lead you back.
Stick with Hope. Follow the trail of goodness when you don't.
Then courageously, faithfully, kindly continue the climb. Taking care to toss a few bread crumbs as you go.
The world has more than enough puddles already.
PS: A gift for you, friend, to make following the trail of goodness a little easier... I recently released my brand new gratitude journal, but if that’s not in the budget, I made a printable journaling page for you. And it’s 100% free. I hope taking a moment each day to find something worth savoring will lift your spirits as much as it has mine. Just click here and your printable gratitude journal page will download right away.