Monday, March 06, 2017

On Hope

Hope is a tricky thing when you are a chaplain. There is always the fear of "offering hope" when there might be none. Or that when people ask for hope they are really talking about something else, like extending life. 

Or they are praying for a miracle, which is a whole different topic. And begging for its own blog post.

The other day on my rounds on the behavioral health unit, a patient asked me for hope.  This was one of those moments (among many) that i stop and pray for God's guidance and that God would give me the words that I needed, because I did not want to screw this up.

But sometimes, when people ask about hope, they are asking for existential hope.  In that moment of conversation with God, where God led me was existential hope. Not the far off hope of "things will be made okay in God's time" but a hope for now.

Our behavioral health units are really good. The staff is incredibly caring. The rooms are private. But if you are there, hope is in short supply. As someone who has struggled with the existential despair of depression, I understand all too well the lack of hope that comes at times with mental illness.

What I offered to my patient was a reframing of this experience as a season. Just as the grim winter days of Minnesota slowly give way to spring, so too the grim days of depression give way to a different season. Just as we must simply hold on until spring comes, we must simply hold on until a new day dawns with depression.

This is not a passive waiting around for time to pass.  It involves making the best of what is in front of you at the time. With winter, it is about warmth and coziness and fighting back despair with hot chocolate and sledding and being with loved ones.

With mental illness, the season waiting for the season to pass is about being engaged in therapies, taking medications if that is your choice, and doing the things that have helped in the past, because odds are, they will help again.

In the situation with this patient, and in many situations that cry out for hope, hope is cyclical. It has existed once, it will likely exist again.  Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. Sometimes we need someone to hold our hope for us.  That is yet another function of that many that a chaplain performs.

When it feels like hope is far away, I can remind you that it has been there before and odds are, hope will again return.

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