When life gets challenging—and let’s be honest, it often can—it is difficult to not be overwhelmed by desolation and a loss of hope.
The Theology of The Body, however, reminds us that God created a world of order, peace, joy, and abundance. Although that was all taken from us by the Fall, God is constantly working to make the world orderly, peaceful, joyful, and abundant again. That is his plan. That is our destiny. In spite of the problems we face, no matter how frustrating or difficult, our job as Christians is to do four things. First, we need to remind ourselves that this is the plan. We need to come against our doubts and hold on to this plan with all our might. Second, we need to pray constantly, always asking God how we can cooperate with his plan to do whatever we can to make the situation in front of us at least a little bit better. Third, we need to get to work, doing what we can to actually try to improve the situation. Finally, we need to repeat these four steps over and over, in all circumstances.
For the Christian “optimism” doesn’t mean saying “everything’s going to be ok.” The truth is, sometimes it’s not ok. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we thought they would or wanted them to. Rather, for the Christian, true optimism, or rather hope, means saying, “Through God’s grace, I have the power to do something to make whatever this is…better. I trust in the Lord who knows the plan and wants to teach me how to cooperate with that plan. Hope is not a process of passively standing by and telling myself that it’s all going to work out somehow. It is the process of 1) acknowledging that in the face of any challenge I encounter, God has a plan for making it better, 2) asking God to teach me how to cooperate with that plan in light of my present circumstances, 3) rolling up my sleeves and doing the thing and 4) building every moment of my life around this process.
Here are a few steps for cultivating true optimism and finding hope today:
1. Feelings are a Choice–We often feel as if feelings are something that happen to us. And they are, but we don’t have to stay stuck in the emotions that overtake us. We can chose to take actions that will help us feel better, stronger, calmer, and more hopeful. No, your emotions can’t turn on a dime. You can’t make yourself super-happy if you’re feeling sad, or perfectly peaceful if you’re feeling anxious. But by challenging the false messages that run through our minds, we can turn sadness into hope, anxiety into resolve, and powerlessness into purposefulness. Instead of giving into the thought that, “there is nothing I can do,” we can remind ourselves that, “Even a small change can make a big difference.” Instead of saying, “No one cares about me,” we can remind ourselves to reach out to the people in our lives honestly and give them a chance to be there for us. Instead of saying, “This situation is hopeless,” we can remind ourselves that with God, all things are possible, and begin to ask him what changes we can make that will give him glory. The psychologist, Viktor Frankl, lived in the Concentration Camps during WWII. He fought against hopelessness himself and also studies those fellow inmates who persevered despite their circumstances. Here is what he had to say, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” No matter how powerless you feel, don’t give up your freedom to choose to respond to your circumstances in a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous manner that leads to strength, power, grace and freedom.
2. Reach Out–When you are feeling sad, powerless, or hopeless, that can be a sign that you are trying to handle too much on your own. Challenge yourself to reach out to God and the other people in your life–especially if you feel that they won’t understand. Make it your job to make them understand or find other people who will. Remember God’s words in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We were created for community. If you’re feeling low–even if you don’t want to be around others–do everything you can to make yourself connect with the people in your life and leave yourself open to other’s efforts to connect with you. Our minds are literally wired to feel better and more positive when we feel connected. Making the effort to reach out to others for help, for support, or even just a distraction, will trigger your social brain to start producing feel-good chemicals that will help boost your mood overall. Work with the design of your body to increase your sense of hope, strength and confidence. Reach out to God and others and let the love that is there for you fill all those dark corners of your heart.
3. Get Tools–If you are feeling consistently stuck, burned out, hopeless, helpless, or powerless, if you are struggling at all to enjoy your life and relationships, it is time to get professional help. It doesn’t matter if you are “really depressed” or not. God wants you to experience the life he is giving you as a gift. If you are having a hard time feeling like your life is a gift, that is enough of a reason to get the new tools, graceful insights, and powerful support that a faithful, pastoral counselor can offer you. Don’t struggle for years on your own. Seek the help today that can help you live a more graceful, peaceful, joyful life. With proper treatment, most people with even serious depression can begin experiencing a lightening of their symptoms in a matter of weeks. And even if you’re not “really” depressed, you can benefit from new tools that can help you think and act in healthier ways and lead a more fulfilling, graceful life.
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