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Why I Think Hope is the Thing with Claws

“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us…” 

Hebrews 6:18-20 (The Message)

Why I Think Hope is the Thing with Claws

Image by Achim Scholty from Pixabay

On March 7th of this year, I signed a contract with Broadleaf Press to write a book about hope. Little did I know, that within just a matter of days, every ounce of collective hope we have would be tried, tested, and shaken to the very core.

Friends, let's call it like it is: the Coronavirus pandemic is scary as hell. It is frightening. And to me, the scariest piece of all is the uncertainty of what tomorrow looks like, let alone the coming weeks and months. But I’ve learned a thing or two about hope in hard times. And I’d like to share a slice of that with you today.

Why I Think Hope is the Thing with Claws

Here’s the truth, my friend: you can do all the work, follow all the suggestions, center yourself, meditate, exercise, connect with whatever type of everyday spirituality works for you, have a great support system, take your meds, and sometimes things will still fall apart. 

Sometimes, all the preparation in the world can’t keep the sky from falling.

It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. Even the most spiritual people face the darkness. I know powerful and influential leaders who have felt crippled by stress and crushed by loss and shame. 

I think about Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church. Even though her husband has been touted as “America’s Pastor,” she’s shared her brokenness as a mom who lost her precious son Matthew to suicide. Talking with Kay, I realized she and Rick had done everything they could for Matthew. They fought hard for him but still lost him. She told me, “There are parts of me that will never be completely healed.”

We’ve talked about how life is really hard sometimes and how crucial self-care is when you’re walking through tragedy. In those moments, we come to know what Kay meant about never being completely healed. Some part may always carry the pain. But it’s not a death sentence. It’s an invitation to keep holding on.

Hope has Claws

Before I started the recovery process six years ago, I considered driving my truck into the overpass countless times. There were days I drank, not for enjoyment, but out of desperation to numb the pain and anxiety. I know what it's like to write suicide notes. I can tell you about hopelessness.

Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” but where is it when you’ve been blinded by disappointment, personal failure, or trauma? Where is hope when you believe, in the pit of your stomach, this will never get better? Where is your wishing star when the pain is so real that you can hardly imagine a miracle?

Hope is coming.

Hope is the resting place for abandoned wives and failed ministers. Hope is the dance floor for shattered dreams, long-since deferred. Hope is a promise that better days are coming.

Hope is the strength of an abuse survivor who finds courage to get the hell out. Hope is the endurance of a single mother who works a day job, goes to night school, and loves her children the best way she knows how. Hope is the wisdom of picking up a book that feeds your soul or calling a friend who can see the light you currently can’t. Hope bends under the weight of chaos, but it doesn’t break.

Hope is a gritting of the teeth, 

a furrowing of the brows, 

and a digging in of heels. 

Hope is an anchor.

Storms suck. You get beat up, tossed around, and left wondering what in the world just happened. But the hope that better days are coming steadies me when seas swell and I am tumbled to and fro by waves of chaos. Hope might have feathers, but I think it’s also the thing with claws that dig in when times are tough. 

Why I Think Hope is the Thing with Claws

Image by József Kincse from Pixabay

Hope is wild-eyed and holds on because it is convinced that things will get better. Hope has lived through some crazy shit and knows that life sometimes just plain sucks. But Hope has been around long enough to know that things will get better. Hope is a stubborn refusal to give up on the promise that good days will come again. 

Let me say it once more for the folks in the back: Good days will come again.

In time, the immediate and devastating chaos will subside and you’ll be able to live in the present moment again. You’ll even begin to look forward to what life brings your way. Better days are coming. Even if the present day feels like it might destroy you, hold on.

Like the tides of the ocean, Joy has washed over me when the hard days finally pass. That will happen for you, too. While we wait, Hope is both the anchor in the waves and the knot at the end of the rope to which we desperately cling. Joy is the message and Hope is the messenger. Hope washes in and out, like the ocean against my toes that cold New Year’s weekend, reminding us again of the rhythm and the rhyme. All of life expands and contracts. We exhale - we lose our breath - but it always comes back with the inhale.

If you’re stuck in the middle of a mess right now, I pray you hear the voice of Hope. That same voice has been whispering for eons, “Joy is coming.” I can’t promise when Joy will show up on your doorstep and the weeping will stop. But I know it always has for me. 

Keep Holding On

If you're in a rough patch and it feels like nothing is working, let me remind you one last time: hard times come and go, just like the tides. Sometimes shitty days turn into shitty weeks and months, but they don’t last forever. Chaos says, “What goes up won't stay there long.” Calm shouts back when we’re shaky-scared, “But what goes down must come up.” Chaos shows up, but it won’t be too long before calm pushes it back. 

When bad news arrives, take a deep breath and look back on all the bad news you've already lived through. You are stronger than you think.

So keep hoping. Keep holding on when life serves up a shit sandwich. When your inner critic starts running its dirty little mouth, keep trusting that better days are coming. Keep looking for goodness and beauty. Keep your eyes peeled for Love to show up. Sooner or later, it will. Eventually, the tide will recede, the waters will calm, and you will have gained new strength and new wisdom for the journey.

The world groans under the weight of its own brokenness, but Hope keeps holding on. In the midst of hell breaking loose in our personal lives, we are the keepers of our inner peace. We might be heartbroken, but wild-eyed Hope digs her claws in, confident that life will get better. One day, our waiting will be worth it.

  • from Catching Your Breath: The Sacred Journey from Chaos to Calm

Order the paperback or e-book here.

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How to Cope with Inner-Chaos:
The 5-Day Guide for Facing Your Worry and Anxiety

Learn simple, practical ways to slow down, catch your breath, and be gentle with your mind.

By Steve Austin

Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.

  • I cannot handle my pain and loneliness since my partner/soulmate died 2 months ago. I can’t fathom life without him. The anger and pain is too much. I cannot find a sign of him or grace in anything. I just want to be with him.

    • Mark, I am so sorry things feel so dark and heavy right now. I hope you have a professional you can talk with right now. Please let me know if you need help connecting with a mental health resource. Please don’t give up.-Steve

      • I loved him more than anything in the world for more than 25 years and he died 5 days before our 2nd wedding anniversary. I went from having that to having nothing. I am destroyed. I am praying so hard and trying to find a way to imagine going on without him. I want a sign so badly from him. I don’t expect any answers from you of course…I just have this compulsion to reach out to someone…anyone when I go down this never-ending black hole like I am right now. Thank you for listening. I am downloading your podcasts with Robert too. Thanks to both of you for just hearing me.