“Always be prepared to give a reason for your hope.” 1 Peter 3:15
I recently found myself in a conversation with a friend who is struggling with depression and feeling overwhelmed. At work, with his family, in his marriage, keeping up at home…he has been sinking under the weight of all of his struggles and responsibilities. At one point in the conversation I encouraged him to have hope that things were going to be okay.
He got instantly angry.
“What do you mean? How do you know it’s going to be ok? Are you going to get me a new job? Can you fix the broken relationships in my life? I cannot just ignore the problems and hope they’ll just go away. You may live your life that way, but I can’t function like that.”
In that moment, I had an opportunity to share the reason for my hope…to explain how my faith gives me patience to wait for God’s timing in my life. To witness to the ultimate hope in Christ and the promise of eternal life that keeps me going through the hard times. To connect with the Paschal Mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Christ that we just celebrated a few weeks ago. To show him how my Christian faith has totally transformed my life.
But I didn’t do any of those things.
I offered some platitudes about how things always seem darkest before the dawn. I encouraged him to seek help from a counselor who may be able to offer him some better coping techniques. I told him I was there to help however I could.
But really? I failed to live out my call as a Christian, as a Catholic, as a child of God.
As I reflected on the conversation the next day, I realized that fear had paralyzed me. It’s a lot easier for me to share my faith and Christian witness with the teenagers I work with because it’s what they expect of me. My role with them is as a faith mentor, teacher, and role model…I’m the “church lady.” I’m also not worried about what the teens think of me. I’m not out anything personally if they don’t like me or poke fun at me because of my faith. I don’t depend on their approval, and feel a strong responsibility to give a reason for my hope no matter what the response.
But when it comes to my peers, my family, my friends…well, that’s a different story. I do depend on those relationships and that approval. I want them to like me and their rejection actually hurts. I was afraid that my friend would label me the “church lady” and that I would lose all credibility with him in the future, and so I took the easy way out.
In his encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved By Hope), Pope Benedict XVI outlines 3 settings for practicing and learning hope. They have been a great challenge for me since that conversation. I’m finding myself asking, how much have I been practicing in these areas? Even more importantly, how much have I been practicing in these areas with my friends and family?
Prayer as a Setting for Learning Hope
I wish I would have shared with my friend how liberating and promising prayer can be. Pope Benedict says,
“A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude …; if I pray I am never totally alone.” (Spe Salvi)
What a powerful testimony this could be to a friend who is struggling with these very feelings of isolation and suffering. I should have offered to pray with my friend…to be a tangible sign of a God who is always listening.
There is something deeper here though, than just praying with others. If I want to be a person who shares a reason for my hope…a person of hope, then I need to practice that hope within myself as well. My own prayer needs to reflect and inform that hope within my soul.
“To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them.” (Spe Salvi)
- How am I praying with and for those that are closest to me?
- How am I allowing God to purify my desires – especially as those desires are related to my relationships with others?
- Am I turning to God in the midst of loneliness and suffering? Do I believe and depend on Him to be there for me when it seems that no one else is?