The other night, my EC and I were lying awake in bed having one of those “important” conversations that couples have. The topic? If we were new superheroes, who would be, and what would our powers be?
It was fun banter, and I remember very little of it, as it was late. I do remember what we settled on for me: “Captain Humidity.” And my superpower? My ability to enter a room and make everyone feel uncomfortable.
I didn’t think much about it until later this week, after having a series of conversations with friends and family. If I could, rather than be “Captain Humidity,” I would choose to be “Hopeful Man.”
Why? Because we there is a serious lack of hope out there. Not just collectively, but often individually, we lack the hope that can keep us…well…umm…hopeful. (Yes, that is a terrible sentence. Read on.)
As I contemplated this idea, I started digging to learn more about hope. It is one of those words we use a lot, but the meaning is fuzzy and can be confused with, or overlapped by, other similar words. Dream, wish, hope, faith, desire, want, etc.
One thing it is not is merely blind optimism. Last week I wrote about optimism, but that was merely the unintended intro to today’s thoughts.
In its religious context, hope is what Elder Uchtdorf refers to as “one leg of a three-legged stool, together with faith and charity.” (link)
Yet when we talk about hope, we often end up blending it with faith, leaving the two words a little fuzzy in their uniqueness. So, in an effort to promote Hope as its own concept, I’m gonna get word-nerdy for a minute.
We know hope as both a verb and a noun. The verb is described three ways:
- to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true
- to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment
- to expect with confidence – trust (link)
Hope is more concrete and realistic that a wish or a dream, as having hope involves expectation and confidence, and even trust.
Last week a coworker asked me what I would do if I won the Lottery. I can dream about winning the lottery, but it is only a dream (Because I don’t play the lottery.)
Dreams and wishes are usually unrealistic, and unattainable, whereas hope is more founded in realistic expectation.
As I often do, I look to other languages and translations to gain insight into words. Hope doesn’t disappoint. In Hebrew, the word “Hope” gets very interesting, as there are several words for it:
- Tikvah: which comes from the root “kavah,” which means to “to bind together, collect; to expect: – tarry, wait.” (link)
- Chacah: to flee for protection; to trust; confide in; to have hope; to make a refuge. (link)
- Qawah: “to stretch out the mind in a straight direction towards an object of hope or expectation” (link)
There are still others, but these three make the point – and the point is that in Hebrew, there is little confusion between hoping and wishing: we aren’t talking about dreams and wishes.
This is backed up by my experience in Latin-based languages. For example, in Spanish “hope” is “esperar.” Which also mean “to wait.” or “Await.”
Another way to get to know a word better is to look at antonyms – and they mean more than just “hopeless:”
To me, those contrasting words, despair, disbelieve and doubt cause me to look at hope as a much more powerful, important word.
How does hope differentiate from faith? Hope is a belief or desire that is strong enough to set an expectation in our hearts., and a vision in our minds. It is more than a mere belief.
Alma taught that “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21)
But Joesph Smith added a lot more heft to the word than Alma did in Lectures on Faith:
“If men were duly to consider themselves, and turn their thoughts and reflections to the operations of their own minds, they would readily discover that it is faith, and faith only, which is the moving cause of all action, in them; that without it, both mind and body would be in a state of inactivity, and all their exertions would cease, both physical and mental.” (link)
Faith is what makes things happen. It causes action, whereas hope and belief, or even desire are not enough to make things happen. Here’s an example that could be a true story:
I was watching TV last night and had a hankering for some ice cream. (Tillamook Sea Salt and Honeycomb Toffee Custard, to be precise.) I thought for a minute and remembered buying some, and putting it in the freezer. I believed there was some ice cream waiting for me
But, just to be sure, I asked my EC if she thought it was still there, and she agreed. My thoughts were moving from belief to hope. I was confident enough that it was there, that I expected it to be waiting for me in the freezer. But it was still just a hope…
I stood up, walked into the kitchen, grabbed a spoon and opened the freezer – with full hope (expectation) of seeing it there. And it was.
Getting up and walking to the freezer was faith. It was the action that came about that was motivated by my hope.
Sitting around believing something isn’t worth very much – regarding ice cream, or religion. The apostle James said, “the devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:19)
James makes a pointed case that believing doesn’t get you very far. It is no coincidence that the very next verse says, “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (link)
Belief is just a thought process, but as belief grows and solidifies, it can morph into hope. Hope, with its inherent expectation and trust, should be enough to get us up and exercising our faith through action.
In dealing with the three-legged stool of faith, hope and charity, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin was very clear when he said, “I think that hope comes first.” (link) He talks about how hope comes before faith, before charity, and even before testimony.
I need to re-order them in my head: Hope, Faith, Charity. The beautiful synergy is that hope leads to faith; faith bolsters hope; and hope and faith both encourage us towards greater charity. It is a wonderful upward spiral.
In that same interview, Elder Wirthlin was asked, “What is it that you hope for?” This was his reply:
“My number one hope is that I may live so that I am worthy to someday be in the presence of our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son with my wife, my children, and my entire posterity, and that we shall not lose one in this respect. That would be my number one hope.”
As far as ultimate hopes go, you aren’t going to find a better one. I would agree with that hope. I am first to acknowledge that when trying to envision what the next life is going to look like, I struggle We have precious little to go on. The hope is more conceptual: We know that we want to be with God and our families eternally. Hope sets the expectation in our minds and hearts that it is possible, and even expected that it can, and will happen. Hope declares that we trust God will keep his promises, and we are willing to wait for it to play out.
But it is not always that major hope – like eternal life – that gets in the way of our happiness. Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained it like this:
“Though “anchored” in grand and ultimate hope, some of our tactical hopes are another matter. We may hope for a pay raise, a special date, an electoral victory, or for a bigger house—things which may or may not be realized. Faith in Father’s plan gives us endurance even amid the wreckage of such proximate hopes.” (link)
He goes on to add, “Genuine hope is urgently needed in order to be more loving even as the love of many waxes cold; more merciful, even when misunderstood or misrepresented; more holy, even as the world ripens in iniquity; more courteous and patient in a coarsening and curt world; and more full of heartfelt hope, even when other men’s hearts fail them. Whatever our particular furrow, we are to “plow in hope,” without looking back or letting yesterday hold tomorrow hostage”
Yes, sometimes life can feel like we are wading through wreckage, and it can be hard to find hope of something better in a world that is losing real hope – willfully or ignorantly.
That’s where “Hopeful Man” needs to swoop in and aid those who are in despair. Elder Maxwell said, “Hope can be contagious,”(ibid) and Hopeful Man’s task would be to infect as many people as he could – with hope.
Earlier in the post I alluded to a pair of conversations I had with people I care about who are struggling with hope – like all of us do at times. Sometimes we just can’t see it, sometimes our hope gets clouded by our behavior, our doubts or the influence of the adversary – and our hope falters. The crisis is that when hope falters, faith soon slips as well, and we stop doing. When we lose our hope, suddenly the purpose and expectations for this life become foggy, and can simply seem to no longer be worth the effort. We enter a downward spiral of diminished hope, faith, and charity.
What greater role could we play in life than sharing our hope with others who are depleted? Life can be tough, and the adversary gets a thrill out of causing despair. Hopeless and vulnerable is how he likes us to be.
“We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope.”
–-Ezra Taft Benson
There are times when we can face disappointment and fatigue, and even a crisis of faith. We lose the vision of our “ultimate hope,” and begin to surrender. There have been times is my life when I have been on that side, and someone, a friend, a loved one, or the Holy Ghost, have helped restore that hope.
There are also times when I have reassured someone who just can’t see it with my promise that I can see it. A testimony of hope is a powerfully reassuring thing. If I can share that hope with someone else, we are both blessed. I can share my hope that:
- It is real. Even though I am limited in what I can see.
- I expect it to be worth it.
- I have trust that God will deliver on His promises.
- I will wait, as patiently as I can, to that day.
If you are running low on hope, please borrow some of mine – maybe for a day, maybe longer. But borrow some until you can reestablish your vision, your expectation, and your trust in what God holds for you. Most likely, the time will come when I will need to borrow some of yours.
We can take turns being Hopeful Man, or Hopeful Woman to those around us, and to each other.
Now there’s a superpower worth having.