Hot Potato: Hope is Ingredient in Change

Suzy gives me that look I’ve learned to recognize in my counseling office. It’s a unique combination of disbelief tinged with frustration and sadness, a hint of hope and overall irritation. It’s usually followed with, “A—MY.” It’s my cue that I’ve said something too hopeful or too optimistic. Although I could blame it on Suzy’s pre-teenager-ness, I’ve had this experience with people of all ages. At some point I usually get accused of being too pollyanna (if the client is somewhat polite and over 40) or stupid (if the client is angry and under 20).

Hope in counseling is often like the game hot potato I played as a child. The client and I throw hope back and forth, neither of us wanting to hold onto it. If I keep it for too long the client becomes dependent on me and gets stuck. But if the client holds the potato for too long before being ready she might give up on healing and take even longer to come back in for help. That special look tells me for now, I need to take Suzy’s hope back for safe-keeping.

Hope can appear like a luxury when life is at its worst. It can feel like a waste of time and energy in the face of mounting bills, failing relationships or debilitating illness. But I have learned that hope—gritty, honest, stubborn hope—is critical for moving forward. Despite your political leanings, Barack Obama (referencing Emily Dickinson) words it wisely: “I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

Where can you use hope in your life this week? Be brave, put on your oven mitts, and pick up your own hot potato.