Hopelessness is an emotional state in which you feel trapped in a bad situation, helpless to do anything about it, and have no expectation of things ever getting better. You might feel trapped in a bad marriage, chained to a job you hate, overwhelmed by bills you cannot pay, or unable to help a loved one who is hooked on drugs. The list of situations in life that can cause feelings of hopelessness is almost endless.
Hopelessness is an especially debilitating emotional state. It can render you unable to sleep or induce you to sleep all the time, rob you of your appetite, make you neglect personal hygiene, cause you to withdraw from family, friends, co-workers, and society in general, and lead to anxiety, apathy, discontentment, and a loss of interest in life. Worse yet, if left untended, it can lead to depression.
Marsha felt trapped in a situation she could do nothing about. Her boss at work was an overbearing bully who took delight in making Marsha’s life miserable. John had always been an ogre, but after she refused his advances the ogre’s behavior became unbearable. Every day he loaded Marsha up with more work than she could possibly complete in an eight-hour day and demanded she stay late to finish it. John criticized everything Marsha did at work in spite of the fact she was the best paralegal in the firm. She wanted to quit and find another job, but as a single mother with an ailing child, she needed the income and, more importantly, the health insurance the firm provided.
Marsha felt helpless to do anything about her situation. Over time, her feelings of helplessness morphed into hopelessness. As a result, she lost her appetite, couldn’t sleep, and withdrew from friends and co-workers. She got through work each day and her home responsibilities by rote memory. A general feeling of apathy characterized her attitude toward life. Marsha needed help. Fortunately for her, help was right around the corner from her office.
Her colleague, Jessica, in addition to being a paralegal, was also a part-time Christian counselor. She recognized the symptoms of hopelessness in Marsha, having experienced them herself. Jessica decided to approach Marsha and initiate a conversation. The two colleagues began to meet for an hour before work every work day. Jessica told Marsha we all live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people. This being the case, we must look to Jesus Christ for hope, not to worldly circumstances.
Jessica told Marsha Christ knew all about her suffering and would walk with her through it. One of the many blessings afforded us by Christ is the gift of hope. Because he lives, his children have hope. No matter how dark our personal circumstances may seem at the moment, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is Jesus Christ. Jessica told Marsha, when she walked with the Lord, she walked in hope.
Jessica shared Isaiah 41:10 with Marsha: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” She explained that although Marsha felt helpless, she wasn’t. God would provide the strength and the help she needed to face anything and everything life put in her way.
Marsha found Jessica’s words comforting, but it wasn’t until her friend revealed she had been John’s victim before he started picking on Marsha that things began to turn around.
John had made inappropriate and suggestive advances toward Jessica for weeks and then made her life miserable when she turned him down. Jessica had felt helpless and hopeless. Like Marsha, she needed the income and insurance her job provided. Consequently, she felt trapped. That’s when she turned to her pastor for help. Pastor Brown had shared Isaiah 41:10 with Jessica just as she had with Marsha. He convinced Jessica to look to God for help and showed her how to pray.
Pastor Brown then suggested the next time John made an inappropriate remark or advance she calmly say to him: “John, I know you are working hard to become a partner in this firm so maybe you should consider how it would look if I was forced to file a sexual harassment charge against you.” John was stunned into silence. From that moment forward, he treated Jessica with courtesy and respect. Her life improved over night. She thanked God for sending help her way in the form of Pastor Brown and, as a result of the experience, decided to pursue a degree in Christian counseling at night. She had completed it only weeks before.
Marsha put her hope in Christ, prayed about her situation, and made up her mind to deal with John the same way Jessica had. Ironically, she didn’t have to. Before he could make any further inappropriate advances toward her, another paralegal in the firm who he had been harassing filed a charge against him. Apparently, Marsha was just one of several victims John had singled out for “the treatment.” All of them, as it turned out, had been chosen carefully. All were single mothers who needed the income and insurance their jobs provided. But John presumed too much with one of his victims and was forced to resign to avoid a lawsuit.
Having hope means looking forward to a better future and trusting it will occur. Hope is one of the most powerful forces known to man. It’s an intangible concept that can produce tangible results. In fact, hope can be the difference between life and death. People have survived grueling ordeals, major injuries, and serious illnesses because they had hope, while others in the same situation have died because they lost hope. Hope is an invisible force that keeps us going when we feel like giving up. People can endure most anything if they have hope.
The reason hope is such a powerful force, at least for Christians, is because it comes from trusting in Jesus Christ. Unless Christ is the source of your hope, you hope in vain. For many people, particularly unbelievers, this is precisely what happens. To the secular world, hoping is synonymous with wishing. People often say they “hope” something will happen when what they really mean is they wish it would happen but don’t really expect it to.
For Christians, hope is something altogether different. Hope in the Biblical sense is synonymous with trust. We have hope because we trust in the Lord, and we know the Lord oversees every aspect of our lives. When our hope is based on trust in God, we don’t just wish for a certain outcome, we expect it provided, of course, it is in keeping with God’s will. Instead of leaving the things we hope for to chance, we place them at the feet of Christ and trust the outcome to Him. We can trust in Christ because we know he will provide what we need, although not necessarily what we want.
I need to emphasize that last point. God knows what we need, and he provides what we need, not what we want. Christians who hope for the things of the world—a bigger house, nicer car, more money, increased power, or enhanced status—may be disappointed, even if they place their desires at the feet of Christ. Why? Because what we hope for should honor God rather than indulging selfish human desires; it should align with the teachings of Scripture. God knows your heart and he knows what you need. Therefore, you can trust him to provide what you need.
To ask God for things that are self-centered and me-oriented is not just inappropriate, it’s a sin. It is one thing for the family of a loved one stricken with cancer to ask the Lord for a complete recovery; it’s quite another for an individual to ask God to let him win the lottery. The former hope aligns with Scripture but the latter does not. Place your hope in Christ, but align your hope with Scripture.
When your world falls apart and hope deserts you, place your burdens at the feet of Christ. Find hope in the fact that God knows what is best for you. Trust in him and understand beforehand that any outcome decreed by God is the right outcome, even if it is not the one you hoped for. In some cases, it can take years for you to understand how and why God used certain events, tragedies, and setbacks in your life. But if you trust in God, it is enough to know He will use the troubles you face for good. This is why you can have hope even during the worst of times.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com