I heard a radio discussion on the flaws of positive thinking and the false hope that accompanies it:
False hope binds us to unliveable situations and blinds us to real possibilities. In contrast, a healthy uneasiness with the status quo prompts the exploration of alternatives. (The Power of Negative Thinking, Radio 4)
He went on to say:
We use the word hope for situations over which we have no agency. We don't hope to eat. We do it. In contrast, we would hope that the plane doesn't crash."
It follows then, that next time I find myself hoping something will be okay, it's wise to take it as a prompt to ask:
Do I really have no agency over the situation? Or can I get up and impact the status quo?
What they were saying was that positive thinking as an alternative to taking action is not positive at all. Believing I am powerless when I'm not is negative.
For example, I wouldn't stand over a heart attack victim with car keys in hand, saying 'I hope you get to hospital'. I'd act. Instead of thinking to myself, 'I hope that poor man finds somewhere to stay this Christmas,' I can support a charity like Shelter.
Hope alone can be unhealthy if it blinds us to what we can do to make a change.
In contrast, sometimes hope is an appropriate acknowledgement that we can't effect change and shouldn't waste energy worrying. Once I've chosen to get on that plane, I can't effect its ability to stay in the air. So hope alone in a situation that is outside my control might be appropriate.
But I have a proposal.
Add to hope a dose of trust, and you have a more potent force, bringing peace.
Let me explain.
Acknowledging situations in which you really don't have agency and in which you are reliant on another (e.g. the designer of the plane and the pilot) is a rational response. If the object of your trust is worthy of that trust, your hope is well-founded and brings peace of mind. Instead of worrying about stuff that you cannot change, you have more headspace to instead focus on those things that you can change.
You can probably see where I'm going with this.
Romans 15:13 reads: '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.'
A trustworthy God in whom we hope brings peace and joy.
Hold that thought in balance with James 1:27 where we read: 'Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.' This is an admonishment to act.
To realise the truth in both these passages we need discernment to recognise when to trust, and when to act.
My mother is suffering from vascular dementia. My sisters and I hope and trust that God will continue to give her peace and will care for her. Equally, we acted to buy a tracker for her keyring so we know where she is, and between us we spend time with her to ensure she takes her medication and that she eats regularly.
So we act to meet her needs rather than sit back and hope God will step in. Meanwhile, the overflow of hope and trust we have in God empowers us and my mother.
We do not walk with blind faith. We walk with eyes wide open to the hope that is founded on God's grace toward us, while actively looking for opportunities to act.
So here's my challenge to you.
Sit and think this Christmas season. What issues are preying on your mind? Where will you place your Hope? On a new year resolution? On the lottery? On your ability to think positively?
Or in a trustworthy God?
You can choose to trust. So act now. You'll find fellow travellers at Ealing Town Hall any Sunday morning.