Many of us are facing the longest, coldest, most dreary part of the year. Winter has us in its grasp and we’re immersed in the penitential season of Lent. Now more than ever it’s easy to fall into a rut, to become captive to fear, to listen to that voice in the corner of our hearts telling us that there’s no point to anything or that it can’t be done—whether “it” is healing from some wound, discerning a vocation, or even just making it to heaven. It becomes difficult to cultivate hope in our souls.
As a very melancholic introvert, I am especially susceptible to falling into the doldrums. There are some times when even trying to foster hope seems like too much work. I am tempted to lie in the darkness and hide in my own doubt rather than reach out towards the love of God and His healing grace.
St. Paul urges us on in the struggle to resist despair:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. -Hebrews 10:23–24
But how to hold fast, especially when we’re not feeling cheerful or optimistic about life? Sometimes it’s easier to throw up my hands than to fight back against the distrust, the moodiness, the dark despair that creeps into my heart. It’s so difficult to hope when confronted not only with the events around me, but also with my own faults and wounds, with my feelings of inadequacy and emptiness.
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How to Cultivate Hope (Even When You’re Not Feeling Hopeful)
Happily, though, hope is not a fleeting feeling of well-being that we can only wait around to catch. It is confidence in God’s goodness, love, and power to save. As a wise priest once told me, the key to growing in hope is fortitude. Like any other virtue, hope can be built by habitual acts each and every day, acts that we can persist in even when the feeling of hopefulness is not present. It’s not an easy task, but there are concrete practices that can grow it surely and steadily, little by little.
1. Go to Eucharistic Adoration.
There is nothing that can strengthen and heal the heart more than the quiet, loving gaze of Christ in the Eucharist.
2. Make acts of hope throughout the day.
Maybe you don’t have any hope; maybe you feel hypocritical saying that you trust in God when you feel fear. But even simply telling Him that you want to have hope is enough to start. A perfect prayer to use is the line of the suffering father to Christ in the Gospel: “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
3. Surround yourself with art that contains hope and beauty.
Today we are inundated with television, literature, and music that, while artistically masterful, is often incredibly dark and drenched in nihilism. While there’s certainly no need to switch to watching exclusively Hallmark movies or reading novels with happy endings, there is something to be said for consciously choosing to remove certain types of art from your life if you know they will be an obstacle to hope and peace.
4. Read St. Francis de Sales.
St. Francis de Sales’ writing exudes peaceful confidence and constantly encourages us to have courage even in the face of our own troubles and imperfections:
Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually: The Lord is my strength and shield; my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped. He is not only with me, but in me and I in Him.
5. Read the Psalms and keep one nearby to glance at throughout the day.
So many of the Psalms deal with hope, despair, and the struggle to have confidence in God’s love and promises. Psalms 88 and 130 in particular are beautiful outpourings to the Lord to use when you just feel too hurt or tired to go on. Psalm 16 reminds the reader how strong and good and true the faithfulness of the Lord is, and how He will sustain us through all life’s storms.
6. Pray a litany of trust, like this beautiful one written by a Sister of Life.
And of course, whenever hope is hard to come by, when it just seems like too much work to fight for it, Mary our Mother is there to strengthen us. We can go to her and ask her to fight that battle of hope for us when we feel too weak to carry on. Be of good cheer, sisters, and remember: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Sisters, how do you cultivate hope in your heart when life feels hopeless?
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Maria Bonvissuto is an editor who lives and works in Washington, DC. In her spare time she reads voraciously, plays classical guitar, and spends hours discussing the good, true, and beautiful with her friends.
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