There’s one quality that you must have if you’re going to grow. Without it your emotions will turn dark and heavy. Your spiritual life will become dry and ineffective. Even your body will begin to show signs of wear.
This quality is a fundamental building bock for faith. It’s necessary for an intentional life. Quite surprisingly, it’s even a powerful component for physical health. What is this quality?
It’s sometimes a feeling, sometimes a belief. And it’s literally necessary for life. It’s hope.
This is not just someone counseling you to smile and buck up. This is about whether you will grow, and in some cases, whether you will live or die. Recent medical studies have discovered that fear and despair are not just mental states. They profoundly effect our bodies as well. You’re designed this way.
When you come under stress certain things happen in your body. These things happen to everyone. When something happens that causes you fear, your amygdala, a tiny almond shaped bunch of nerves in the middle of your brain, starts issuing orders.
Cortisol and adrenaline are released into your bloodstream. These hormones get your heart pumping fast, and your blood pressure goes up. Your brain goes into an elevated alert state. In order to fuel this high level of focus, your brain starts processing glucose as quick energy. As soon as your brain uses the free glucose in your system, you start craving sugar. In order to save energy for thinking and for a quick escape, your digestive processes are slowed. Your vision and perception narrows.
These changes all make you more effective in a crisis, but here’s the problem. This reaction is designed to be a short-term boost that help you deal with the unexpected. When the crisis passes your body and brain are supposed to return to normal, healthy, functioning state. But when you live in a constant state of fear and anxiety, this never fully happens.
If you’re living with anxiety and stress, you’ll recognize these symptoms: Your muscles knot and tighten in your back and neck causing pain and headaches. Your mind stays at high alert, spinning and jumping from topic to topic. This leads to sleeping issues and memory problems. Your brain keeps demanding glucose, prompting sugar cravings. This leads to weight gain, and all the associated health issues of obesity. At the same time, your digestion becomes less effective, and you draw less nutrients from your food. Your blood pressure stays too high, leading to circulation problems, and heart disease.
People are, quite literally, dying from the stress effects of fear and despair.
Then there are the emotional impacts. Fear and despair close us down emotionally. Instead of seeing possibilities, we see obstacles. Instead of seeing solutions, we see all the reasons we will fail. We can’t see the big picture because we’re caught up in the painful details. We start to feel like we can’t act, we’re just victims of forces beyond our control. Despair becomes depression, and depression becomes an incapacitating black hole.
Any intention you have to live intentionally or grow in your life will be eroded away. This will even will impact your spiritual life. Think for a moment about the things followers of Jesus are supposed to do: We’re called to trust someone we can’t see with our security and future. We’re invited to give sacrificially and to serve without strings attached. We’re asked to invest in the people around us without fear of being taken advantage of, to turn the other cheek, and love our enemies. We’re asked to band together in community when we all know how difficult relationships can be.
Every part of a wholehearted life requires hope. To love God more deeply, to know yourself more fully, to learn and grow, to live intentionally, to care for the people around you. Without hope these things become impossible.
If you have a desire to grow spiritually, or emotionally, hope is the motivation you need. If you are thinking about restructuring your life so that you can be more healthy, or live more according to your sense of who God made you to be, hope is non-negotiable. If you’re finding yourself mired in stress or despair, the first thing you must do is find hope. If your motivation is lagging, you need more hope.
In coming posts, I’ll talk about places we try to get hope that doesn’t work, where hope comes from, and even how to have hope in the darkest places of despair. But for today consider this. The Bible suggests that hope isn’t something we muster up. It’s something that comes to us as a gift. Hope is a gift of grace.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
I pray that you’ll experience that gift today.
Have you experienced being without hope? How did it impact your life? How did you find hope again?