“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” So writes Andy Dufresne to his friend Red near the conclusion of that wonderful spiritual film The Shawshank Redemption.
I realized some time ago that, when people come to me, what they often seek is hope. That belief that things can get better. That pain can heal. Sometimes people come seeking hope in the face of terminal illness. As with other spiritual themes, hope hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in psychological thinking.
There have been some exceptions. Charles Snyder, for example, has tried to study hope in an experimental context and has come up with a cognitive understanding of it. More helpful to me was the classic work by Jerome Frank.
Dr. Frank wrote a book titled Persuasion and Healing in which he tried to develop an understanding of what is essential to successful psychotherapy. One of the factors he identified was a belief that things can improve. Another was the notion that hope is fostered by the client’s sense of power or control. Also important is helping people not feel alone. And finally Frank noted that there is emotion involved with hope. A feeling of joy in the face of options or solutions.
But what about hope in the face of things such as terminal illness or unimaginable abuse? Here I find Viktor Frankl to be a guide. Frankl suffered the unimaginable — imprisonment in a Nazi death camp. He survived and fashioned a theory from his suffering. That theory recognizes that, in life, some things happen to us over which we have no control. But we always have a choice as to how we face such events. In the face of a life-threatening illness, do I become bitter? Self-pitying? Stoic?
I remember one beautiful man I knew who was dying of AIDS. I asked him how he wanted to face his death. He said quite simply “I want to look forward to stepping into the light.” A beautiful stance of hope in the face of a terrible illness and a great lesson for me.
On my own spiritual journey, hope has become key. So I leave you with this paraphrase of Red’s closing words from Shawshank:
“I hope there’s a God.
I hope there’s a heaven.
I hope I get to see my parents and sisters there some day.
Reflection: How important has hope been on your own journey? For what do you hope?
Charles Snyder The Psychology of Hope
Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning