A visual way to see how your hope needs help
I’ve got to share a breakthrough with you that will help you understand (and strengthen) your hope.
In addition to this newsletter, I’m working on a book to help bring hope research to more leaders and churches who need it. I had a beloved teacher once tell me the adage, “If you can’t explain it to a child, then you don’t truly understand it yet.” I don’t mean to call my fellow pastors “children “(feel free to chime in if you’re a Bishop or a District Superintendent 😊). But, this whole process has been one of understanding hope better myself so that I can share it more plainly.
I’ve experimented with diagrams several times, and none of them seem to hold up to the nuances of hope. Last night I talked to my wife, who was proofreading Chapter Two for me, when she suggested a picture of an old-style scale that could show when hope was unbalanced. I immediately rejected her idea, as impatient husbands are wont to do.
I thought, “That would only work if I had TWO scales, sitting on top of an even larger scale…” and then it hit me: a mobile!
(My wife is so smart and clearly doesn’t deserve my constant rejection. It just goes to show you how well balanced (ha!) she is!)
And now… behold:
If you’re new to Practical Hope, let me explain. Hope Psychology says we experience hope when we have both agency (a sense that we can do something) and pathways (we know how to do it.) Agency and pathways can be out of balance, say when you have the time, energy, and strength to do something (high agency) but don’t know how (low pathways.) That’s a “lopsided hope” or, perhaps better said, an “unbalanced hope.”
This sense of agency and pathway can be our own or from outside, but both types of hope are essential. I call it “practical hope” when our own sense of agency and pathways is sufficient. For most of us, a trip to buy a new shirt is a high-hope endeavor so long as we have transportation to the store (pathways) and a bit of money (agency.)
But when it comes to bigger things, like salvation in Christ or hope in the goodness of humanity… that’s not our agency and pathways. That’s deriving hope from external agency and pathways. For the “goodness of humanity,” we’re hoping in the agency and pathway of other people. For “salvation in Christ,” we are trusting in God’s agency and pathways. I call this “ultimate hope.”
Here’s what’s brilliant about the mobile: we can throw the diagram out of balance.
This version is of a typical church that’s seen decades of decline. (Can anyone relate?) They want to fill the pews again but don’t know how— 50 years of this. Their practical hope is WAY too light, primarily because they lack pathways.
Yet, so many churches like this still hope in God. They have great faith in Christ and are confident in God’s ultimate purposes. We may not understand how salvation and eschatology work (God’s pathways), but we know God is able (God’s agency).
The result is a lopsided hope or, in the language of this new diagram, an unbalanced hope. This shows how one can be both hopeful and hopeless simultaneously. It also instantly shows what we need to do: the only way to balance our hope is to find more earthly agency— especially pathways— to hang on that left side.
That’s where to road gets difficult for the theoretical church in the diagram, as there is no pathway in our control that can fill the pews like they were in the past. But that doesn’t mean that such a church can’t find new purpose by discovering what God is already doing in their midst and the community around them. If they can find new agency and new pathways for a new purpose, then the mobile would balance again— they would once again know the fullness of hope.
Shoot, a hope like that might even start to spread and inspire someone new to sit in one of those empty pews.
Seriously, this diagram is a significant breakthrough that has been years in the coming. It’s still a bit rough, and I’m sure there is room for improvement. (I had to draw three different versions to arrive at this one!) I would love your thoughts. What does this say to you? What’s not working in the diagram? Any ideas of where else it might go? Please, please let me know.
…and thank you for walking with me on this journey!