The Hope of Ukraine
I want to try something different with the Practical Hope newsletter today.
Usually, I use this space to share lessons from where hope psychology meets church leadership. (We have too many churches who have lost hope in their future!) But sometimes, tools like hope psychology are easier to see on a larger scale.
So today, I want to talk about hope around the war in Ukraine.
First, a refresher. The groundbreaking psychologist C. R. Snyder wrote that:
Hope = Agency Thoughts + Pathway Thoughts
In other words, if you feel you have the power to do something (agency) and you know how to reach your goal (pathways), then you experience hope. I like to divide this up one step further to say that sometimes the agency and pathways are our own (practical hope), but we can also experience hope when we perceive agency and pathways from beyond ourselves (ultimate hope).
(I’m writing in late March of 2022. Hopefully, the entire situation doesn’t change before this goes out-- unless it changes for the better, of course.)
So when Russia was massing troops and weaponry on the border, those of us in the West didn’t feel much hope. Looking at the size of the Russian war machine next to the much smaller Ukraine, we all figured that if war started, it wouldn’t last long. We didn’t think Ukraine had enough agency, or power, and we couldn’t envision a pathway to victory for them. So, we Westerners put our hope in the pathway of diplomacy, which didn’t have enough power (agency) to stop the invasion. Once the attack began, our hope for the situation dropped.
But Ukraine proved us wrong! I would describe their agency as still being quite low— they are simply a much smaller country with fewer resources than Russia. But, they managed to find unexpected pathways born from sheer determination. Reading tweets from Ukrainians shows that they are full of hope! They have taken what agency they have and amplified it through innovative pathways, and the result is an experience of hope even in a still-dire situation. The result: hope!
In the meantime, the West has found new unity in coming together to support Ukraine. This unity is a potent form of agency: our efforts become more effective when we work together; our power increases. BUT, the West has a pathway problem: there’s not much we can do beyond sanctions and supplies. Fear of inadvertently escalating the conflict into a world war is quite real, and that keeps options like direct military intervention off the table. For us, though, the strong agency found through unity is enough for us to feel at least mostly hopeful despite being light on pathways.
So far, I’ve described where I see practical hope in the war in Ukraine. But what about ultimate hope, hope that comes not from our own actions but from beyond us? One minor place is Ukraine hoping in Western unity and sanctions, which are beyond their control, yet supporting them.
I wish I could ask a Ukrainian Christian about this— who am I to say why they have ultimate hope? Without a doubt, Ukrainians of faith have yet another layer, trusting the agency and pathways of God. But since I can’t speak for that, I’ll take a guess about another source of ultimate hope. The Ukrainians clearly believe that their liberty is worth fighting for. Even if they die, standing up to oppression is an important end in itself, one that has meaning. As the all-too-relevant Vaclav Havel might say, one that “makes sense.”
Their hope is bolstered by the agency of doing what is right, trusting in a pathway largely unseen.
The result is a people who remain hopeful, despite what must be a terrible roller coaster of hope that dips each time the air raid sirens go off. They have practical hope because they’ve found many pathways despite being light on agency. They have ultimate hope because of their faith and because they stand for a fundamental human right infused with the power of what it means to be human.
I’ll be honest; it feels wrong to turn the conversation to the problems of our congregations that are so small in comparison. But hopefully, this helps you understand the hope of Ukraine. (I’m not used to writing about this kind of thing, so if I misstepped anywhere, please forgive me, and let’s fix it in the comments.)
I hope it also helps you see your own hope with new eyes. May your ultimate hope always be strong in God— but may your practical hope be not far behind!