“Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things—the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation, and so on—will get better. Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.” – Henri Nouwen
We could all use some good news after last year. No need to recount the tragedies that bloomed into life across our screens and newspapers; suffice to say 2015 was a hard one.
Sometimes I wonder if the world is suffering more in the 21st century or if we simply know more. I think it’s the latter, and that our abundance of information means we carry more of the world’s sorrows than ever before. It’s impossible to check the news without learning about a recent tragedy, whether in our neighborhood or abroad.
As we step into 2016, I’ve been thinking about the difference between hope and optimism. A new year carries optimism, no matter what the news cycle tells us. This isn’t a bad thing—we can and should move forward with anticipation and joy. But optimism alone won’t carry us very far.
The line between optimism and cynicism is as thin as a tightrope; if you follow either too far you might land hard and disillusioned. With suffering cropping up around us—in our own lives, in the lives of friends and family, in this whole chaotic world—optimism appears increasingly naïve.
Thankfully, there’s a sturdier option. As Henri Nouwen points out, hope acts independent of circumstances and leads to true freedom. We can maintain huge hope even in the face of darkness. Hope is nearly synonymous with trust—an active choice to lean on God’s good promises, intangible as they may feel.
Hope is hard to cling to. It’s not a natural, emotional upwelling brought on by promising circumstances. But it’s bedrock and sure in a wild and scary life. We worship a God whose mercies are new not just every year, but every single morning.
Here’s a prediction for this new year. There will be terrorist attacks and natural disasters, humans will be sold, minorities will be oppressed, and lack of opportunity will keep families below the poverty line. The shouting of these headlines will drown out the stories of hope. But just because we can’t hear them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. These stories persist, tenaciously, in the darkness. People motivated by hope persist in loving others in small, daily ways.
These are the stories we want to lift up. We want to tell you about those who act as Christ’s hands and feet in the face of oppression, poverty, and fear. We want to welcome in a new kind of journalism. We want to highlight hope.
By Annelise Jolley