I was thrilled to hear Elder and Sister Holland focus on hope during their recent worldwide devotional for youth. We all need to have a more complete understanding of hope. A young person who is struggling with his testimony frequently receives the counsel, “you need to have more faith,” when what he really needs is more hope. We talk a lot about faith, but not a lot about hope. The word “hope” is not even in the Bible Dictionary. Hope is too often the neglected sister in the Faith-Hope-Charity triad.
Hope Includes Desire
To better understand hope, it helps to break it down into separate parts. One element of hope is desire. This may be the part of hope with which we are most familiar, “I hope they call me on a mission, when I have grown a foot or two,” means “I desire to go on a mission, I want to go on a mission. This is the desire of my heart.”
Hope means we want something to happen. We desire something.
- I hope we win the Super Bowl.
- I hope I win the lottery.
- I hope I get the job.
- I hope she calls me back.
- I hope my injury gets better
Hope Includes Belief
Think about how happy it makes us when we discover something we desired might actually be possible. Imagine the joy of an infertile couple who suddenly discovers there are treatments for their infertility and there is a possibility they might have their own child. The belief that the desires of our heart are indeed a possibility, is the other element of hope.
A young person will be delighted to discover his ACT scores are high enough to apply to the university he desires to attend. There is now a real possibility that he will get what he desires. Because he believes there is a possibility, he can get in to the school of his choice he will go to work to fill out the applications, write the essays, obtain letters of recommendation, and whatever else might be necessary for his hopes to be realized.
There is nothing that can make us more optimistic than the idea that we might actually realize the desire of our hearts. This is why we get such a feeling of optimism when we read about hope in the scriptures. Nephi uses the word “brightness” when referring to hope. (2 Ne 31:20). Contrast Nephi’s optimism with how Mormon feels when he is without hope because of the grim state of the unrepentant Nephites. (Mormon 5:2)
Belief is an important part of hope. Hope without belief is just a wish. It’s like wishing on a star, or a rabbit’s foot, or a lucky coin. “I’d wish I could to get into the university, but with my grades, there’s no chance.”
Hope was undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools I had as a therapist. My clients were already half-way to reaching their goals simply because they showed up. They had enough hope that counseling could help them that they were willing to take time off work, or find a babysitter, drive all the way to my office, wait in the waiting room, reveal their emotions to a stranger, and pay for the session. They wouldn’t have done any of these things if they didn’t have some hope that I could help them.
Desire + Belief Prevents Hopelessness
Whenever I think of hopelessness, I picture a lion I saw in the Santo Domingo Zoo. She lay in the dirt with her eyes staring vacantly at the humans who stared back. She was so skinny her ribs protruded from her coat and her coat was spotted where great chunks of fur had fallen away. She clearly didn’t have the energy to eat, or even lift her head. I looked around at the chain link fence that caged her in and noted the lack of greenery. I wondered how she tolerated the constant heat without the shade of a single tree. It appeared that the poor lion had given up. She was miserable. She saw no way out of her circumstance. She was trapped. She had no reason to live, no reason to try. She was the essence of hopelessness.
Desire and Belief together are necessary for one to have hope. If you desire something but really don’t think it’s possible to obtain whatever you desire, like the lion who saw no way out of her cage, we might say you are “hopeless.” You want a new job, but you don’t believe you are qualified, so you don’t even bother to fill out applications. You may then talk yourself out of even wanting the job, thus becoming hopeless because you have not only lost belief, but also lost desire.
Hope for Aspiring Missionaries
Sometimes we are fully aware that a pre-missionary lacks Desire or Belief, but we figure that the mission will fix him. We think that in the mission he can “gain a testimony” so we send him out unprepared. Sending out a missionary who does not have both Desire and Belief can squash a budding testimony, rather than grow it.
Too often, we treat aspiring missionaries like an unbaked cake. The runny cake batter doesn’t look like much. Certainly nothing to put at the center of your celebration. However, we pop it in the oven for two years and it comes out impressive and delicious, a true blessing to all those who enjoy it. We send missionaries out thinking something will happen on the mission that miraculously turns a runny mess into a delicious cake.
It is not a change in temperature or climate that miraculously changes a runny adolescent into a perfectly baked missionary. The thing that changes are the desires of his heart and the strength of his beliefs. However, for this change to occur he must leave with a desire to serve, however fragile, and beliefs strong enough to act.
As we prepare young people to serve missions, we will be wise to focus on their desire and their beliefs before we focus on their skills or their techniques. A missionary with a burning desire and rock-solid beliefs will teach naturally, bear testimony powerfully and return with a desire to continue serving throughout his life.
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