I was having dinner with my youngest daughter, Madeline at a favorite Thai restaurant. We’d been to visit her Uncle who was terminally ill, and we’d spent the weekend with extended family in small town West Texas. Though it was a sad time, there was also joy. Her uncle Gregg even shared his own laughter along with the tears. He and our family are all Christians.
At dinner, Madeline looked at me and said, “Dad, all my friends are depressed.” I think she was feeling unsettled about the weekend and perhaps how the laughter and joy fit into the experience. She went on to describe how nearly all her friend’s parents are divorced. They’re discouraged by what they see happening in the world politically, about the environment, and injustice. As she talked I thought of how proud I am of Madeline’s role with many of these troubled friends as a kind of surrogate Mom. She gives them hope.
Hope is defined a couple of ways in the dictionary – a feeling of expectation and desire about a certain thing, or a feeling of trust. Both are meaningful from the Christian perspective, but before we go further, I’d like to pose an important and challenging question to the fathers reading this:
Are you hopeful?
Is your hope showing?
In the day to day interactions with your family and friends, with your children, is your hope showing?
The Christian ideal of hope looks beyond pessimism or optimism, because we believe our hope is grounded in a reality beyond the positive and negative. The reality of a prevailing goodness and it’s source being the ultimate good: God.
That belief can inspire a hope that, like a virus, is contagious.
We can learn about hope from some people who lived through what seemed to be one of the most hopeless situations in history…
Gabor Mate tells a story in his TED Talk of how as an infant, he cried incessantly, to the point where his mother called the doctor to make an appointment. The doctor said he would come, but that all his Jewish babies were crying. This was at the beginning of the Holocaust, and the babies were crying because they were absorbing the stress of their parents.
This story begs an important and challenging question: what are our children absorbing from us, their fathers? What we want them to absorb is a hope that will sustain them during the difficulties.
One of my favorite books to read at the beginning of the year is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. In it he recounts his experience at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. He was a brilliant Neurologist/Psychologist who, at the age of 16, published his first paper, which was recognized at the time by Sigmund Freud. When the Nazi’s invaded his country, Frankl lost everything, his pregnant wife and unborn child, his family, and a manuscript he’d written about what would become his life’s work, a system he called Logotherapy .
In the prison, Frankl took on the work of suicide prevention for the prisoners. He said, “They died less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope.”
Frankl encouraged the prisoners to focus their thought life on someone they loved and wanted to see again, and to imagine them watching and to suffer well for them. His work saved hundreds of lives.
He explained that the primary factors that influenced the hope of the prisoners were uncertainty and suffering, and it was easier to help the prisoners who had faith because they had found a more certain place for their hope.
The human heart runs on hope, and absent a hope that is solidly placed it’s very difficult to process suffering and uncertainty. It’s during those times that we, as fathers, can turn to the source of our hope in prayer and meditation on the Scriptures.
My hope is that when the trouble comes, you too will focus your thought life on those you love, but focus on the Source of your hope. Remember, dad, that you are a carrier of the hope virus.