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 so near the equator 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.
Hopeless is the most dangerous emotion I have ever encountered. As a therapist I could help a client progress as long they maintained their hope. When a client lost hope that their marriage could succeed, I knew divorce was on the horizon. When a client lost hope that their depression would abate, I became concerned they would do something to end their life. Of all the tools I had in my toolbox, instilling hope was the most valuable.
Paul claimed that of the three virtues, faith, hope and charity, the greatest is charity. I believe that charity is the “greatest” of all virtues because it incorporates faith and hope. I also believe that in order to have faith or charity, we must first have hope.
Desire + Belief
Many people, when they think of hope, equate it with desire, as in “I hope we win the game” or “I hope he asks me out,” or “I hope I can fit into my dress.” This aspect of hope reflects our wants, or our wishes—something that would be really nice if it happened, but we don’t necessarily believe it will happen.
Others, when they talk about hope, are thinking about the belief aspect of hope, as in “There is no hope for a cure.” “I have lost hope in the system.” In this case the person desires a cure, or wishes the system worked, but doesn’t believe either is possible. Because there are two aspects of hope people may use the word to mean desire or they may use the word to mean belief, or they may use the word to mean both desire and belief.
Hope in Christ
It might seem that one can merely believe in Christ to have Hope in Christ. This is not the case. Hope in Christ always includes both desire and belief. We cannot have hope in Christ unless we desire what Christ offers.
Laman and Lemuel remind us that it is possible to believe in Christ and at the same time have no desire to have him influence our lives. They had seen an angel, been shocked by the power of The Lord, almost drowned in the depths of the sea, and they still didn’t desire Christ’s influence in their lives. They believed in him, but had no desire to follow him. Likewise, the Lamanites kept losing wars, knowing the Nephites were being led by The Lord, but they had no desire to worship the Nephite God.
In our modern lives we fail in the same way. We must desire the things God desires, not the things of the world. President Nelson has encouraged us to “Think Celestial” or in other words, don’t be satisfied with telestial or terrestrial glory. We must want Celestial life before we will do what is necessary to attain it. Paul admonished us to stop “kicking against the pricks,” or stop fighting against God. If we truly wanted what God wants, we wouldn’t buck his counsel, we would welcome it. President Nelson has pled, “Let God prevail,” reiterating the plea to stop trying to do things our own way. God knows what he’s doing. How silly to think we know better.
Like me, you may think that desiring the things Christ offers is a no-brainer. Therefore, we assume that those we teach already want what Christ offers. Why wouldn’t they? Therefore, we focus on increasing their belief. However, to truly develop hope in Christ one must first desire what Christ offers and then believe he can deliver. When we consider our own behaviors, when we ponder our own priorities, we might realize that our desire for what Christ offers needs to be ignited. If we truly desired the things Christ offers, it’s possible we will do a few things differently.
A Noun and a Verb
Hope in Christ is both a verb and a noun. The type of hope we have been discussing, wherein we desire what Christ offers, is an action word. Hope in Christ is something we do (or think). However, Hope in Christ is also a real thing, something we can hang our hat on. It is the one thing we can count on. Christ is the hope of our salvation. He is the way we can repent of our sins, the reason we can be resurrected, the way we gain eternal life. None of this is possible without Christ.
When we place our hope in things of this world, there is always the chance that we will be disappointed. We have been warned about trusting in the arm of flesh. Sometimes flesh lets us down. People we believe in may disappoint us. Therefore, if we are going to believe in anything, Christ is the safest place to put our absolute trust. “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Hope of the helpless, oh, abide with me.” [Hymn # 166, italics added]
JeaNette Goates Smith is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of four books on family relations. You can find more information on her website, www.smithfamilytherapy.org.