Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hope, Joy and Despair

Tis the season of hope and joy. But did you see or hear all the news stories during the Thanksgiving holiday of family tragedies all over the country due to people that have run out of hope and joy? It was shocking to me the number of reports. It's a well-documented fact that a number of suicides that occur, do so during the holiday season. How can a season that is known for extolling the virtues of such hope and joy also be so full of despair?

First, let's look at the reasons for despair. I'm sure a percentage of those that experience despair, anger and hurt are due to mental illness. We have an entire society that is diagnosed with some sort of mental condition or disease. It's common for the common-man to go to therapists these days in attempts to gain tools of dealing with their lives. Whether they simply need the ear of a unbiased third-party or not, it seems that most are prescribed medicines for depression or something more serious. I don't mean to implicate that I don't believe in real mental illnesses, but I do believe we've become much too comfortable with the idea of taking a pill to fix all our ills and we are too ready to let a doctor throw a diagnosis on us. After all, it provides a great reason for the way we are feeling, or a great excuse. We can easily say, "See, it's not my fault, I have a condition."

We have also become a society of people that don't know how to take responsibility for our own actions or lives. Granted, life happens to all of us. Things come along that we didn't ask for. We all have hopes and dreams and many times we fall short of seeing the fruit of those desires. There can be many, many reasons why we fail to achieve, but the negatives in our lives are oh, so much easier to focus on, aren't they? Think back in your life when something wonderful happened. How long did you fly high on that blessing? Now, on the other end of the spectrum, let's think of something bad that has happened, or something good that DIDN'T happen. How long did you hang onto that disappointment? I would venture to say that many of us continue to hold onto those kind of failures. We hold onto them as if they are a fond friend and then we add the next disappointment to it, and the next, and the next till we find ourselves in despair and broken. It's no wonder the phychiatric field is booming so well with people reaching out for something, anything, to make them feel better.

The other side of this story is the hope and joy that the season offers to everyone via bells ringing, carolers singing and the hope of the perfect present from the perfect person. We dream of apologies, forgiveness and loving, functional families. The Christmas season has encompassed the religious and the secular hopes. Again, it's easy to be dazzled by the pretty sounds, glistening sights and wonderful smells of the season. It does become magical. But, again, it's pretty fleeting. How long into January does it usually take to begin feeling the isolation and cold of the winter set into your soul? The hope that the religious celebrate is much, much less attractive to the eyes, ears and nose. It is only attractive to the soul. Many find that grasping hold of a faith and belief in God during this time gives them something more to lean on and learn from and a promise of Someone that loves them. But as is the case in the rest of the world, the church has it's share of hurting, broken people that fall short of living up to someone else's expectations simply because they find them in a church. So church and Christians get a black eye overall for the fact that people naturally look to people for fulfillment and not to God.

We all experience these things. We all hope for things that are likely unrealistic to expect. We all have our failures and disappointments that we can dwell on and hold onto. But not all of us do. Some people seem to just naturally look at the positives in life, not exactly like positive-thinking, just seeing the hope in any situation. Some positive souls have it in their DNA, they come from families that are just more naturally happy and see the silver linings. The rest of us have to work at it. But we have support, if we know who to turn to. God's Word is full of hope and support. When we turn to Him and keep Him close to our hearts, He will teach us. There are also people that are encouragers. Start finding the positive and negative people in your lives. If they like to tear you down only to help themselves feel better then they probably aren't adding anything positive to your life. Some are very crafty or hold positions of authority so it would seem easy to rationalize that their criticisms and suggestions are for our good. Be honest with yourself and if you can't think of times when they extended love, friendship and support, then you need to make some decisions about their influence.

During this holiday season, let's surround ourselves with hope and encouragement without expecting anything materially specific. Our expectations should be in a hope and joy and contentment that flies in opposition to the world we live in these days. The more we seek and find, the more the negative influences this world provides will be attractive, tempting or snagging. Let's look ahead to 2010. Let's make it a year of encouraging, hoping, fulfilling, contentment and lifting up each other. I'd love to hear from all of you about the good reports that I feel is all of ours to claim.

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