Earlier this month, I heard a report on NPR titled, Another Mass Shooting? ‘Compassion Fatigue’ Is A Natural Reaction. It begins:
“Roger Chui first learned about the mass shooting that killed 12 people in a packed bar Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when he woke up the morning after and turned on his phone. “And I was like ‘Oh, that seems really soon after Pittsburgh and Louisville,’ “says the software developer … “I thought we’d get more of a break.” Chui feels like these kinds of shootings happen in the U.S. so often now that when he hears about them all he can think about is, “Oh well, it happened again I guess.” He’s not alone. … but science suggests that these feelings are quite normal. It’s a natural response called compassion fatigue… Thinking too much about traumatic events, whether it’s a refugee crisis on the other side of the world or a school shooting in our own country, can make people too anxious or depressed to function in their daily lives.”
I don’t know about you, but I know I have felt some level of compassion fatigue looking back at the events of the year. It seems it’s getting easier and easier to slip into despair. As my awareness of the suffering, injustice and oppression around me increases, my ability to feel hope is increasingly threatened. Add to this the daily challenges we each face individually, we can almost effortlessly, slip into moments of complete hopelessness.
In the October General Conference, in a talk titled Try, Try, Try, President Henry B. Eyring, spoke to encourage us through the troubles we face. And today, mostly as a practice in encouragement for myself, I want to do the same. President Eyring said:
“All of us live in a world where Satan’s war against truth and against our personal happiness is becoming more intense. The world and your life can seem to you to be in increasing commotion.”
“My testimony is that the Savior is putting His name in your hearts. For many of you, your faith in Him is increasing. You are feeling more hope and optimism. And you are feeling the pure love of Christ for others and for yourself…”
I know each of us here, like me, knows what that feels like –when you are filled with hope and optimism, when you are able to feel and give love freely. Those are times of joy, gratitude and hope. But if you, like me, don’t feel that way all the time — even if you don’t feel that way right now — I want you to know that’s okay, too. That’s part of life. In 2 Nephi 2:11, we read:
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.”
In this scripture, Lehi is speaking to his son, Jacob. Jacob was born in the wilderness. In fact, the chapter begins with Lehi describing how well acquainted Jacob is with affliction, sorrow, even rudeness, but Lehi also says that Jacob “knows the greatness of God.”
There is clearly opposition in all things. So, without despair, we would not know hope. For those times of darkness, the wildernesses of our lives, President Eyring acknowledges:
“I realize that some of you listening today may feel your faith and hope are being overcome by your troubles. And you may yearn to feel love.”
Scripture is replete with examples of good people living in this darkness, feeling sadness, feeling despair, feeling hopeless and overcome by their troubles. An obvious example is Job. We often applaud Job for his faithful approach to his significant trials. That’s absolutely deserved. His faithfulness in the face of losing everything is astounding. But in Job 19, Job is describing all the truly terrible things that have happened to him. In verse 10, he says:
“He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath he removed like a tree.”
Did you catch that? Job felt hopeless. Even still, after acknowledging this moment of despair, he ends the chapter testifying of His Redeemer Jesus Christ.
Then there is Jesus himself, who has been described as the Master of Hope, is it possible that he ever felt overcome by troubles? The answer, I think, is yes. The famous scripture in John 11:35 is “Jesus wept.” I recently re-read this full chapter. The scripture, of course, refers to Jesus’ reaction to the death of his friend Lazarus. What I found interesting is that Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead. And he already knew he was going to bring him back to life. Clear back in verse 11, he said:
“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” Isn’t that fascinating? Skipping down to verse 33:
“When Jesus therefore saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, 34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 35 Jesus wept.”
Less than 10 verses later, Christ has risen Lazarus from the dead. I believe this is not only a remarkable display of compassion but also simply the hallmark of living a human life. Even in times when we have the knowledge of eternal life, we can feel troubled. And we can feel deep sadness. That doesn’t make you wrong. It makes you human. But in those dark days, it is also possible to hope.
I am a person who lives with depression and anxiety. As a person who experiences mental illness, I know that in some of those dark times, you may need medical intervention to help you feel hope again. And I also know that there is hope and beauty and light waiting for you on the other side of those trials. It has helped me to learn that hope is not so much a feeling as it is a cognitive behavior. Social science researcher, Dr. Brené Brown’s work theorizes, “Hope is not how we feel; it’s how we think.” And, she graciously adds, “it can be learned.”
So how do we cultivate hope?
President Eyring’s solution is simple but not particularly easy. “Try, try, try.” Practice living like Jesus. Try taking His name upon you every day. President Eyring says,
“Brothers and sisters, the Lord has opportunities near you to feel and to share His love. You can pray with confidence for the Lord to lead you to love someone for Him. He answers the prayers of meek volunteers like you. You will feel the love of God for you and for the person you serve for Him. As you help children of God in their troubles, your own troubles will seem lighter. Your faith and your hope will be strengthened.”
Hope is so intricately tied to faith and charity, that I am not going to try very hard to distinguish between the three. Elder Dieter Uchtdorf said, “Faith, hope, and charity complement each other,and as one increases, the others grow as well. Hope comes of faith, for without faith, there is no hope. In like manner faith comes of hope, for faith is “the substance of things hoped for.”
While despair might call you to disconnect from the world and from others, it might say, just don’t read the news, just think of yourself. I don’t think this is a sustainable answer. Rather, hope asks us to engage. Adam S. Miller, in his book Letters to a Young Mormon, writes:
“Faith is a willingness to care for what’s right in front of you. Faith doesn’t wish these difficult things away. It invites them in, breaks bread with them, and washes their feet. … God constantly gives himself to us in the inconvenient, in the hungry, the outcast, the prisoner, the sinner. He gives himself in what we would like to ignore. “For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” … “just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me”. Faith has to do with the least of these. It takes us down and into the unwieldy world, not up and away from it.”
Faith, hope and charity — and, I would argue, especially hope — cause us to engage more fully in the world. Neil A Maxwell said:
“Significantly, those who look forward to a next and better world are usually “anxiously engaged” in improving this one, for they “always abound in good works.” … Hope is realistic anticipation taking the form of determination — a determination not merely to survive but to “endure… well” to the end.
In other words, we hope for a better world because we are working to make the world better. In 1 Corinthians 9:10, Paul puts it this way: “He that ploweth should plow in hope; and he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.”
You’ve probably felt this happen in real time. For me, I saw this at work while in graduate school. I spent two years learning about systemic injustices and oppression, the root causes of some of the world’s most pressing problems. It was difficult to feel hope. That is, it was difficult until I started my field research. In the field, I worked with a group of elementary-aged students. And that’s when I found hope. I saw hope in their resilience, in their interactions, in their capacity to love and laugh. Hope is learned in the doing, in the work, on the ground, connected to those around us.
We can also learn to cultivate hope by looking for examples. Or, as Elder Maxwell put it, in “illuminated individuals.”
I saw a shining example of hope fairly recently when I watched Be One – A Celebration of the Revelation on the Priesthood. People of color in our church certainly know suffering, injustice and oppression. To witness this beautiful celebration of their stories, music, poetry, art and voices gave me hope for the future of our church. Their examples of hoping and working for a better world and a better church were inspiring. And the example of endurance through troubling times had me in tears. “There’s a place for us” –all of us, in this gospel, in this world, and in the eternities.
Sister Cheiko Okazaki put it this way:
“Hope persists, even when experience, reason, and knowledge all say there is no reason to hope. Hope does not calculate odds… It is a double-sided virtue. It is prepared for either sunny or stormy weather. To choose hope is to choose life. To choose hope is to choose love.”
Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about a single metaphor quite a bit. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about surfing. Now, I’ve never been surfing, but I’ve seen enough movies to make the metaphor useful to me. I think, for me, I have often looked at the waves of life as something to avoid. I will spend a lot of time thinking about how I can stop the waves, or trials and challenges, that might come my way. As someone who lives with anxiety, I can tell you I have spent WAY too much time thinking about all the different ways some wave might come and be terrible. Of course, this is futile. Just as we could never stop the waves in the ocean, we can not prevent trials and challenges from occurring in our lives. The goal of this life is to have experiences,or to get out on those waves. I see hope as a thought process that moves us out into the ocean and up onto that surfboard. Hope says, there’s beauty in riding that wave. Faith, hope and charity then work with us to keep us balanced on the board. And when the wave inevitably throws us off, hope gets us back up on that board for the thrill of riding out that wave. Challenges are not always enjoyable, but riding out the wave is where joy is inevitable found. Remember? There must be opposition in all things.
Jesus Christ says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The goal is not to feel nothing. It’s to live and feel abundantly. Elder Maxwell puts it this way: “Those with true hope often see their personal circumstances shaken, like Kaleidoscopes, again and again. Yet with the “eye of faith,” they still see divine pattern and purpose.”
And that pattern and purpose leads us to see that God is actually in the winds and the waves and the hope and the despair.
Because our Heavenly Parents are with us always. And hope in Christ, of course, leads us there.
I’m glad it’s Christmas time. I’ve been covertly listening to Christmas music for a couple weeks now. One of my favorite songs is O Holy Night. Because this topic has been on my mind, some lyrics have hit me as especially poignant. It goes,
“O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn”
I love that description. A thrill of hope. I testify that Jesus Christ offers our weary world a thrill of hope. Because He was born. Because he chose to atone for us. And because he overcame death. That is our ultimate hope. And that He did all this because He loves us.
As Paul puts it, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”