Hope, not fear, during power transition and other uncertain times

In less than a week, votes will be counted. In less than a week, we might know the results of the election. We may know who our new — or returning — elected officials will be.

It seems to me that many of us are nervous — or terrified — about what is to come from Nov. 3. And, rightly so. We know that our votes are sacred, that a lot is riding on the results.

Here’s a little litany of what is stirring in our hearts and minds: We are thinking of the dignity of the human person and sacredness of the planet. We are concerned about climate change and political division. We are thinking about the right to life and the need to protect the vulnerable — children, elders, immigrants and refugees. We want violence and racism to end. We want there to be food, health care and justice for us. It is a lot. This is part of the mess of radical Gospel living: We care about many, many issues, and we are involved in shaping the world that we long for.

And, this litany doesn’t even account for the concerns I have about the transition of power in local, state and national governments. I wrote about those worries. This video highlights a possibility.

Despite all this seeming danger and real suffering, Christian scriptures challenge us to not be afraid — to be people who foster the virtues of love, faith and hope. Especially hope.

In the Bible, the message is plain:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. (Romans 8:24-25)

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. (1 Peter 3:15)

The call to hope is strong. Personally, it seems to be coming to me from every direction. This week I am attending a conference sponsored by National Religious Vocation Conference that is all about hope and religious life. Last night, I attended the virtual fundraiser “Keep Hope Alive” for Pastoral Migratoria. (It was inspiring! You can enjoy the program too.)

It’s not surprising that the theme of hope is everywhere. The COVID-19 pandemic is hard and we are full of grief and exhaustion. When times are tough, hope holds a sacred power over us.

So, how could a Christian live with hope during uncertain times?

The list of options is long; possible actions compatible with each concern. Pray. Donate. Volunteer. Care for yourself. Study. Companion others. Reach out.

No matter how you embody hope, let’s deeply consider what it is and is not. It isn’t naive optimism. It is not denial. It is a feeling, a passion, but it’s more than a feeling to harbor in our hearts. As written by St. Thomas Aquinas, hope is a movement toward a future and possible good that is dependent on God’s greatness, not our own. (Sister Michaela Martinez writes about this here.)

photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

With all this in mind, three simple principles to holding on to hope have become apparent to me. They all require openness and deep listening.

Honor the complexity of every person and situation.

No person or circumstance is worthy of being flattened out and oversimplified. But we tend to do this a lot, and this why we are in serious, polarized times. Every person has a story. We need to listen to learn the reason for their worldview, heartache and concern.

This NPR story emphasizes the challenge — and importance — of maintaining relationships across the political spectrum. Here’s an expert that remains with me:

A little more listening to understand, a little less trying to convince, and a lot more intellectual humility would do everyone a world of good, said Israel, who’s also the author of “Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work.

“We’re flattening people out in terms of our view of them … and we’re not really seeing the full complexity of people on the other side.”

This connects to the next principle that helps me to have hope.

Remain open to what you don’t know.

You can call it intellectual humility, sure, but you can also call it conversion. God designed us to be creatures who are constantly growing, learning. We are meant to stretch ourselves away from our attachments and comfort zones. And we’re meant to be people who are on journeys of discovery — in our faith, relationships and development. Listening and learning must be ongoing for us. This demands an openness to reframing, redefining and new ways of being as well.

Keep the big picture — God’s view — in mind.

As we love, serve and pray — as we radically live the Gospel — we are likely to feel small instead of mighty. Setbacks and heartache can get the best of us. We wonder if we are really having an impact, if our hard work is influencing the common good. It’s easy to become discouraged or to despair. This is a constant temptation for us.

Yet hope is rooted in trust in God. We have faith in God’s omniscience, and we believe that we can never know all of God’s good mystery. So we bow and worship and accept the big picture, that we are only allowed to see a sliver of the Truth.

In the midst of it all, we pray and submit ourselves to the holy mystery. God is in control. God has got this. We aim to cooperate with God’s vision and plan, to partner with the good. Centered in our spiritual practices, in our prayerful contemplation, we can quietly do small things for the love of God. While we do, God takes care of the big picture and there is freedom — and joy — in this mystery.

Yes, a lot is uncertain. From the transition of power after the election to the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many reasons why we could be afraid. We are Christians, though, who live boldly with faith, love and hope.

The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. (Psalm 147:11)

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