Encourage hope instead of fear

Driving through the Callahan Tunnel today I was checking out bumper stickers instead of paying attention to the road, and one on the back of a truck caught my eye: Encourage hope instead of fear. As dissatisfied as I can be with bumper sticker creeds, that one really moved me, and I thought about it most of the drive up to Cambridge, in line at the Starbucks where I get my Tuesday hot chocolate, and into my late afternoon appointment on the other side of the river.

Encourage hope instead of fear…since I had spent most of the day with my brain in the 1800s, that phrase naturally made me think of Pope Gregory XVI (wasn’t that your first thought too?) and all those other Popes in the years between the Reformation and the Second Vatican Council, who dug in their heels against the shifting world, convinced that if they let the slightest whiff of modernity in through the cracks, those cracks would make the Church come crashing down like a roof under too much snow.

The Church they knew was already crumbling, the world was going to be different, and they indeed had reason to fear. In that way they were no different from any of us – don’t we all have reason to fear? Everyone is unpredictable, tragedy crashes in on us when we don’t expect it, all of our best efforts might come to nothing. People break into our apartments, people hurt our feelings, people die.

I’ve avoided writing about this because it is so….me, but a few years ago when I was asked to do one of those goofy “life graphs” where you draw the development of your faith, I made a long patch of grass, and right in the middle of it, at a particularly difficult time in my life, I drew a big steaming pile of crap. The rest of my prayer group was mildly scandalized (yet impressed by my clear rendering – there was no doubt what it was supposed to be). Against my will I learned something from that exercise worthy of an 8th grade retreat: the manure of our lives stinks, but it can be great fertilizer.

Whether we are hopeful or afraid doesn’t change that life can be crappy. What it changes is whether we allow our soil to be fertilized or allow our grass to wither. Hope is not the same as naïve optimism: hope is looking honestly at the world and holding in your heart a vision of goodness triumphing. Hope is not trite “everything happens for a purpose” idiocy: hope is coming up with a new purpose when life changes our plans.

Encourage hope instead of fear – half the time we can’t help our fear, but neither can our fear help us. Fear paralyzes us and offers us no control. When we are hopeful we have some control, knowing we participate in a larger plan for goodness, knowing that we are armed in the battle against chaos with fortitude and vision that keep us moving forward through the tunnel.

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10 Responses to Encourage hope instead of fear

  1. craig says:

    I’ve been away – prepping for Blissdom, attending, and recovering from the blissdom plague. I’ve missed your words.

    From the Popes, to the crap, I enjoyed each word.

    And Amen – hope builds, fear paralyzes – choose hope.

    God Bless and Keep You and Yours

  2. Bridget says:

    Ah, Meg, I love your blog. I especially loved this: “hope is looking honestly at the world and holding in your heart a vision of goodness triumphing.” Gives me a better outlook about graduating in a few months and heading out into the big, scary world… 🙂 Thanks.

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  4. Yeah, I think because “fear paralyzes us and offers us no control” it’s sometimes easier to worry than to hope. But it’s almost a Christian duty to hope isn’t it?

    I love this too…”the manure of our lives stinks, but it can be great fertilizer.” That’s awesome!

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  5. Brooke Larimer says:


    Your words always somehow reach me when I most need them. Thanks for being completely on my wavelength.

  6. Brooke says:

    A David Foster Wallace quote with a similar message gakked from someone’s FB wall. Not that I think you and Mr. Wallace have that much in common or anything…

    “Most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.”
    -David Foster Wallace

  7. Pingback: Awaiting with eager expectation | Felice mi fa

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