Keeping Hope Alive

Cicero, the Roman statesman, gave us the well-known proverb, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” But, is that true?

By Rick Ezell

A few years ago the psychology department of Duke University performed an interesting experiment. They tested to see how long rats could swim. In one container a rat was placed for whom there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container the hope of escape was made possible for that rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of Cicero’s statement. The Duke experiment proved, “While there’s hope, there’s life.”

In our lives, faith belongs more to the intellectual, love to the emotions, but hope concerns itself with the will. Hope is medicinal. Hope is that virtue that can transform despair, defeat, and death, knowing that there are no hopeless situations there are simply people who have grown hopeless about them.

Your situation may appear bad, hopeless in fact. Your friends may be moving away. Your health may be unraveling. Your children may be causing you to pull your hair out. Or, any of a number of things, causing you to ask, “Why go on with life?” But you must. And you must not give up hope. Keep hope alive for it keeps you alive.

Don’t try to nurture hope alone. You stand a better chance in a supportive relationship with others. In recent years, people have discovered that talking and listening to their fellow sufferers has a soothing effect on the psyche, sometimes more so than doing the same thing in the presence of a trained therapist. A friend once told me, “Just the sight of my friends tends to make my pain a little more bearable.”

The early settlers of the western frontier had to learn this truth the hard way. Initially, they built their homes in the middle of their homestead, often miles from the nearest family. Isolation proved to be a far cry from ideal. Life was hard making it alone. As time went on settlers learned that they had a better chance of making it if they would build their homes near each other, in the corner of their property rather than in the center. Four families could survive much easier if they loosened their grip on independence and came together.

Those old settlers learned what we need to learn today: pulling closer together keeps hope alive. As we do, hope allows us to look beyond the pain. A teacher was assigned to instruct a horribly burned young boy in English while he was in the hospital. She was unprepared for the pitiful sight and the pain the youngboy was experiencing. She awkwardly stammered, “I’m the hospital teacher, and I’ve been sent to help you with nouns and adverbs.” The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” Before she could finish a profusion of apologies, the nurse interrupted her: “You don’t understand. We’ve been very worried about him, but since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.” The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher. “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”Yes, hope and life are inexplicably woven together. Let me remind you of the words of social critic, Richard John Neuhaus: “The times may be bad, but they are the only times we are given. Remember, hope is still a Christian virtue, and despair is a mortal sin.”

Rick Ezell serves as the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Greer, SC.