When I first stumbled across the Hope for Widows website over a year ago, I thought, What in the world? Hope? How can a widow of all people have hope? Hope for what? Hope in what?
Hope that I don’t wake up crying tomorrow? Hope that Todd visits me in a dream tonight? Hope that I can be happy again?
For over a year now, questions about what I’m supposed to be hoping for have hung around in my head, so naturally the word “hope” grabs my attention when I come across it. Recently, it appeared in my pastor’s sermon and in a text I was reading. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, some pieces are beginning to fit so I am able to partially understand what hope means.
Hope can mean expecting something to happen, but it has another, more subtle meaning: a feeling of trust. My pastor mentioned this angle in church a few weeks ago. My curiosity piqued, I continued to read the verses he mentioned. I found that Paul wrote about hope from prison and described hope as a kind of equation: suffering leads to endurance which builds character which reinforces hope. And for a Christian, that hope is trust in God’s presence to provide peace.
Maybe my character isn’t strong enough yet, but I hit a giant speed bump when I get to the hope part of Paul’s equation. I’m too human. I can’t just hand over my problems and grief to God like a bag of used clothes. Plus, I have too much self-agency. I’m not going to ask God to do something that I can do myself.
No one drowning in grief wants to hear that her suffering is a character-building exercise. But, it seems true that living through our suffering does make us stronger. And, if we don’t endure, if we give up, we experience the opposite of hope–despair, a life without meaning.
Oh, I have tiptoed around the edges of despair, have come close to losing the will to live. What kept me going? Looking back over the last two years, I think I found what psychologist Viktor Frankl called “purposeful work.”
A Holocaust survivor, Frankl sought to explain in Man’s Search for Meaning why some Holocaust prisoner’s lived in spite of everything. He proposed that the meaning of life comes from three possible sources: courage, love, and purposeful work.
Frankl wrote, “Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, ‘I have nothing to expect from life any more.’ What sort of answer can one give to that? What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
What does life expect of me? What task is before me today?
After Todd died, the answers were small: feed the dogs, buy coffee, pay a bill. Baby steps. Some days they still remain small, but increasingly, I can handle larger ones, too. And, when the world seems absolutely crazy with war and climate change and civil unrest, and I don’t have Todd to link arms with, I can step back and look for something I can do.
If hope is a Christian’s trust in God, I trust that He has given me the ability to act while I can, to choose right conduct, to accomplish small and large tasks in front of me. In this way, I can sidestep despair. In this way, I am healing.
The website Hope for Widows describes part of its mission as helping widows understand that their grief can turn to hope, that “healing happens.” That feat seems impossible in the weeks and months following the death of a spouse or any loved one, but it does happen.
We call each other “Hope Sisters” here, each of us helping one another to endure, to wake up each day and find a task to accomplish, to take steps. With baby steps, with one step forward and two back, with sidesteps around despair, we walk the road toward hope and healing every day.