Sage Hill Counseling has a latin phrase as its motto; Dum Spiro Spero. Translated it means, “While there is breath, there is hope.”
When people first encounter this they often comment about how positive it makes them feel. Many imagine hope to be a profound feeling that things will work out for the best. When we really consider this phrase in connection to our everyday life, however, we run into something much deeper. For many of us, Hope is the biggest problem in our lives, not pain.
The future is where the scars of the past and their effects in the present combine to tell us a story about what our lives will be like tomorrow. Our struggle with hope begins when we engage our stories about the future based on the wounds of the past. Beginning to look toward the future often brings up fear, cynicism, stoicism, and/or despair, all of which defend us from the pain of hoping that goodness will come in our lives.
A memorable scene from the latest Batman movie, The Dark Night Rises, displays our battle with hope in a profound way. Wayne finds himself in a prison at one point in the movie. Each day he and the prisoners are tempted by hope, symbolized by a massive hole in the roof, their main source of light. Upon being plopped in prison, the place is described to him as:
There is a reason that this prison is the worst hell on earth… Hope. Every man who has rotted here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So simple. So easy. And, like shipwrecked men turning to seawater from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned that there can be no true despair without hope.
The roof’s opening reminds the prisoners that there is a world outside the prison, that they had previous lives, that they could have a future if they could ever escape, and so on. They can’t just give in completely to despair, because hope literally hangs over their heads. If they could just forget hope, their lives wouldn’t be as painful.
In less dramatic scenes of our everyday lives, we engage in a similar struggle with hope that is shaped by our past experiences. We know in our heart’s that goodness is possible, but also know the pain we have been through; we often fail to hold these two in tension with one another. If we have not dealt with the wounds of our past’s, hope will never be anything other than a tantalizing tempter or a fantasy divorced from reality.
Our faith in life lies in what we believe to be true about life based on past experience. And our faith is inextricably linked with what we are capable of hoping for.
What are the stories about life that we tell ourselves?
How has our faith been shaped by heartache alone?
Does our faith give way to a gritty form of hope that can bear heartache well?
Stephen James, MA, LPC-MHSP, NCC, is the Executive Director of Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN. He is also a best-selling author of five books, including Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. He is active in training other mental health professionals as well as to speaking to audiences around the country on the topics of living fully, servant leadership, family relationships, and spiritual authenticity.