When I was younger I remember a few friends having this poster from The Shawshank Redemption in their homes. If you haven’t seen it, it is the story of a group of prisoners. The tag line is that Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.
I watched Comic Relief this year and was struck by one story in particular. The women in this story had lost their husbands in the Rwandan genocide, and had themselves been attacked and left with HIV. In 2001 they were preparing for their deaths, worried about how their young children would cope without them when this happened. In 2015, the same presenter returned. The women hadn’t died. They also weren’t cured. But they looked different. What they had now, that they hadn’t had before, was hope.
Hope for the future. Hope that life wasn’t an inevitable and forgone conclusion. Nothing had gone the way they wanted, dreamed or planned. But they had hope.
In the midst of my own darkest moments, I realised I couldn’t keep myself going. Maintaining hope without help had become almost impossible. I decided I would receive counselling to keep myself afloat. The counselling wasn’t to tell me what to do, but rather to give me an opportunity to talk without feeling like I was burdening yet another person. After all, my counsellor was paid to listen. It was incredibly helpful, but she would ask really difficult questions, usually after a comment I had made. Sometimes these were really hard hitting, and almost too much. I couldn’t always answer them there and then, it was too painful and too complex for an instant answer. They gave me lots to think on, and eventually, as I let the light into that area, it became clearer. Some of the things I learnt I still think on now, and I’m so glad I did it.
As part of the counselling, I made a mind map of my life. This is the centre.
This was at a point in my marriage when I didn’t know if it would ever be reconciled. I didn’t know if everything I’d ever wanted would be lost. Hope was all I had to cling to.
Hope is a tiny word, with a huge impact. Hope is sometimes the only thing that can keep you from falling into despair. Hope is that tiny flicker of light in an otherwise darkened room.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a blog by a pastor from my old church. His wife, an incredible woman who heard God and encouraged others, was dying. What humbled me most, and still moves and inspires me now, was their hope. I have no doubt they hoped she would be healed. But she also had an assurance, a hope, in where she was headed. An unshakable hope fixed in Jesus, and knowing that she would be meeting Him at that pivotal moment. I hope I have that same assurance and hope when I am at that point too. What an incredible hope to have.
We don’t very often associate death with hope. We don’t associate hope with feeling powerless, and not knowing where things are headed. But hope sets you free. Even when your world is falling apart. My hope wasn’t realised for my marriage. But a glimmer of hope kept me from drowning in sorrow and being overwhelmed by grief.
I identified with Shawshank’s Red, “Terrible thing, to live in fear. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won’t have to be afraid all the time.”
We need hope to sustain us. We need hope to keep us going through the toughest points. Sometimes that hope doesn’t come from within, we need to be given hope by someone else. Andy does this for Red, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
And eventually, Red begins to find it. “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
What’s keeping you prisoner? Where is your hope? Can hope set you free?