EARS AGO, a site near a small town in Maine was selected for a large hydroelectric plant. A dam would be built across the river and the town would be submerged. When the project was announced, the people were given months to arrange their affairs and relocate.
While the dam was being built, an interesting thing happened. All improvements in the town ceased. No painting was done. No repairs were made on the buildings, roads, and sidewalks. Day by day, the town grew shabbier.
Long before the waters came, the town looked abandoned—even though the people hadn’t yet moved away. One citizen explained, “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.”
That town was cursed with hopelessness! The most profane word in the English language is not some four-letter word; rather, it is hopelessness. To say a person is hopeless, or a situation is hopeless, denies the power of God. In Psalm 42:5, we read this powerful statement: “Hope thou in God.”
Anatomy of Hope
No one can live long without hope. Even for those who are deeply depressed, a ray of hope will often begin the process of recovery.
When hope is gone, people quit trying. As long as they can see a flickering light from the lamp of hope, they are never completely defeated. Little wonder Samuel T. Coleridge wrote, “He is the best physician who is the most ingenious inspirer of hope.”
A man or woman can find courage to keep his or her family together despite a spouse’s struggle with addiction, as long as they can see a spark of hope. Parents can keep reaching out to a prodigal son or daughter if they have hope in their heart. A salesperson can live with any number of negative responses to his or her product if the light of hope burns in his or her soul.
Age and Hope
Hopelessness is a terrifying issue faced by many senior adults. The sources of hopelessness may vary, but four areas usually form the basis for this stress: (1) facing one’s own mortality, (2) realization of diminished resources, (3) low self-esteem, and (4) pangs of self-pity.
Facing one’s own mortality. I once saw a man extend a metal measuring tape to 72 inches. Holding it on the floor in front of us, he explained, “These 72 inches represent my life span. I am here,” he said, pointing to the 66-inch mark. He pointed then to the 72-inch increment and continued, “Statistics say I have just this much farther to go.”
This graphic illustration helped me understand the hopelessness many senior adults feel when they realize most of their life is behind them and there is no way to turn back the clock. It is too late to make up for lost time. Most unaccomplished goals will remain unaccomplished. Time is running out. It is simply too late.
Realizing diminished resources. As a minister, I have observed many senior adults struggling because of diminished resources. I am not speaking of retirement income or material goods. The resources I refer to are weakened emotional stamina and lessened physical strength. Senior adults often become frustrated with common problems they are no longer able to handle with ease.
People in this age group also discover that a lack of physical strength prohibits them from coping with household chores and property maintenance that previously seemed second nature to them.
Losing self-esteem. Faced with these hopeless situations—time running out, weakened emotional stamina, waning physical strength—many senior adults experience low self-esteem. Unable to do for themselves or others what they have done in the past, they experience feelings of uselessness.
Practicing self-pity. A typical by-product of low self-esteem is self-pity. Self-pity feeds on the negatives encountered by the senior adult as he or she attempts to go through daily routines.
Anchors of Hope
I realize I cannot turn back the clock. I cannot change my status as a senior adult. Some of my lifelong dreams must be put on the shelf, and I must accept this graciously. While putting aside former goals, I can set reasonable short-term goals that give me renewed self-confidence when I accomplish them.
Reach out to those who want to help you. I find it impossible to manufacture former levels of emotional and physical stamina when facing life’s trying circumstances.
I cannot always give commands to my body to produce physical strength and have it obey. I can, however, swallow my pride and ask for assistance when I need it.
Being “totally in charge” is not as important as functioning in my comfort zone. This is difficult to accept. Yet I realize that friends, neighbors, family members, and social service agencies stand ready to extend my own diminished resources. My job is to ask.
Rehearse the truth that your worth in Christ is unaffected by changing circumstances. It is a daily battle, but I must remind myself of my self-worth. I have lived many years and enjoyed a few accomplishments. Just because I am slowing down doesn’t mean I’m not worth as much. I can feel good about what I have done and what I have learned.
Some days it’s easier to believe this than others, but I keep working at it. On days when it is harder to believe, I try to remember Proverbs 16:31: “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness” (NIV).
Answers of Hope
Who can help but feel helpless when caught in a situation that looks hopeless? When we feel that way, how should we respond? I have two answers.
1. Realize no situation is hopeless unless you frame it in the limited confines of your own existence. Look at the Cross. Frame it in 24 hours of a single Friday, and it looks hopeless. However, set it against the background of eternity, and it becomes itself the sign of hope.
2. Remember you are never completely helpless. You may have felt helpless many times, but you are never genuinely helpless except when you count on your own strength alone. If and when you are ready to accept the help that’s waiting to be given to you, from sources you perhaps least expect, help arrives.
There is hope. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. God’s Word promises you hope.
Centuries ago, Martin Luther said it well: “All which happens in the whole world happens through hope. No man would sow a grain of corn if he did not hope it would spring up and bring forth the ear. How much more are we helped on by hope in the way to eternal life?”
God’s Word is as timely as it is timeless. And His Word says, “Put your hope in God” (Ps. 42:5 NIV).
Writer/minister Morris Chalfant of Kankakee, Illinois, is now experiencing “the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7) in its fullest sense.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Evangel.