Raising kids is hard. Each child is unique, and none come with an instruction manual. As parents, we try to do our best. We read every book and blog published to be the best parents we can be. But sometimes, that’s just not enough. The successes and good times happen less and less frequently, and each setback convinces us we are failures. Little we do makes things better. We fall into a continual state of hopelessness. You ask yourself, “Why bother trying? We’re just going to fail again.”
Hopelessness begins to knock at the door of your heart when you feel and believe that you have no future. It happens so easily, and it can take root all too fast. Each time we face one of life's many interruptions that change our perceived futures, hopelessness can settle in and live rent-free in our hearts and minds. If you find yourself at this point today, I’m here to offer some words of encouragement.
Over 20 years ago, I faced a life-altering interruption. At that time I was pastoring one of the fastest-growing churches in my denomination. However, following a painful manic episode that had become public, I was asked to resign. It was earth-shattering. My position and the church had become my identity. I was devastated to the point of complete hopelessness. I had lost my future. And the deep, dark hole of depression became a shameful guilt place of familiarity for me. It was only by God's grace that I didn't follow through with my suicidal ideations.
For years I had felt as though I had a monster inside me that I had to manage. The more stress I experienced with pastoring a growing church, the more impossible it was to control the monster. So when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found out that the monster had a name. And strangely enough, a small ray of hope began to break through the hopelessness that had swallowed me whole.
Why would there be a small ray of hope following my mental health diagnosis? Because of the people around me who helped me to see that the diagnosis and treatment of my bipolar disorder were my way back to having a future. The idea that the ‘monster’ could be treated, and I could have a future, pricked a small pinhole of hope into the darkness of hopelessness. It was not an easy journey, but it was more than worth it. With that small pinhole of hope, I could see a way forward. I allowed myself to grieve what I had lost, and began to embrace a new and different future: believing that I could live well in spite of having bipolar disorder.
Dr. Sean Lopez, the author of Making Hope Happen, has done extensive research on hope for over 14 years. His research supports what I experienced. When I thought I had no future, hopelessness set in and took over. And when I could see the way to a future, hope sprouted. And the clearer the future became for me, the more hope I felt.
Interestingly enough, hope can be borrowed, hope can be shared, and hope can be caught!
Think about it: if you hang around a lot of hopeless friends, you will begin to feel hopeless. And if you hang out with people who are filled with hope, you will begin to feel hopeful.
So, here’s a question for you. How is your ‘hope tank’ doing? Do you feel like you can see a way forward? If not, do you potentially need to let go of the future as you thought it would be, grieve it, and let it go? Do you need to embrace the new potential future? There's no doubt that doing this is a process. It is not like switching a light switch on. But, it is a choice.
Hope is truly a choice. And for those of us who are Christians, this hope is not only a choice, but it is sure and certain. Paul reminds us that no matter what our circumstances might be, there is a future because the Lord will work all things out together for our good. (Romans 8:28) I certainly may not "feel" hopeful, but I choose to believe the promise of Romans 8:28, and that means that there is a future. It may not have been the future as I thought it would be, but it is a future.
Nothing can change your future faster than finding out you have a child with special needs. Parenting is exhausting in and of itself but can be even more so when those special needs demand your time, attention, and last ounce of energy. Advocating alone for a special needs child can be a full-time job. How do I know? Well, I've been watching my sister and her husband care for their youngest son who at the age of 14 was injured in a school bus accident.
It was a beautiful fall day following a band competition. My sister was a sponsor on the band bus following one carrying her two sons. Just a few miles into the trip, the bus my nephews were in rolled off the road and crashed into a deep ravine. Two students and one adult sponsor were killed instantly. Several students were thrown out the bus windows and trapped under the bus. Both of my nephews were life-flighted to the hospital. While both were seriously injured, my younger nephew was unconscious and had sustained so many bleeds on his brain that they could not even count the tears and bleeds. He had a traumatic brain injury and was not expected to live past the first 12 hours.
When he survived those 12 hours, we were told that he would never wake up and would be in a vegetative state the rest of his life. So when he woke up and began to follow us around the room with his eyes, the doctors were amazed. They had not seen anyone with this severity of a brain injury ever do this. Then when my nephew began to talk, the doctors simply called it nothing less than a miracle. And we all rejoiced.
But then the reality set in. He was injured, and life was never going to be the same again. This promising young athlete would be confined to a wheelchair and not be able to live on his own. His future was changed forever. And they had to grieve and let go of what may have been, and accept the new harsh reality of what was going to come, having a son with a brain injury.
Through the grieving and tears, and the endless months in the hospital, they began to let go of the dreams and hopes that they had had for their son. And day by day, moment by moment, they could see the possibility for a future for him. Today he is 30 years old, and while he is in a chair, he can walk with some help. He has some short-term memory issues, but has found ways of compensating for it by keeping notes and a calendar of events. Some 15 years later, their lives have joy.
In spite of his injuries, my nephew is one of the most positive young men you can meet. However, my sister will tell you that there was a point in which they had to believe Romans 8:28 to move forward. They had to choose hope. In spite of not feeling hopeful, they chose to believe that there was a future. It is not the future they believed that would be, but it is a new, different future, and it is good.
So I ask again: how is your ‘hope tank’? Is your hope tank empty? Is being a caregiver sucking the hope right out of you? Do you see a way forward into the future?
Are you strong enough to make the choice of hope? If not, I have some hope you can borrow. See, I know, because of the storms I've been through in my own life, that God is at work in all things. He is with you. He has not left you. He won't leave you. And He is FOR you and your entire family! He has a plan.
Everything may not be "good" right now; but all is well because of Him. He has heard every one of your tears as a liquid prayer. Look for that little tiny bit of light coming through the pinhole poking through the hopelessness you might be feeling. Choose hope. Choose it minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day, and your feelings will begin to catch up. There is a future and joy is included in it.
I leave you with the blessing of Romans 15:13,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Brad Hoefs is the founder of Fresh Hope for Mental Health (www.FreshHope.us) , an international network of Christian peer support groups for those who have mental health diagnosis and also for their loved ones. He is a certified Intentional Peer Specialist, and also serves on the State of Nebraska Advisory Committee on Mental Health. Brad was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I in 1995. One of Brad’s passions is to empower peers to live a full and rich life in spite of a mental health challenge. Brad his the host of the Fresh Hope 4 Mental Health podcast. (www.FreshHope4MentalHealth.com) He is the author of Fresh Hope: Living Well in Spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis. He has a B.A. in Communications and a Masters of Divinity. Brad has been married to his wife, Donna, since 1979. They have two adult married children and love being grandparents to the grandkids! He is the pastor of Community of Grace in Elkhorn, Nebraska.