Place for Hope has supported and trained many over the past few years who have admitted feeling overwhelmed. Such feelings are often closely aligned to falling levels of hope and can lead to general negativity in our lives, churches, communities, and society. People expected to feel better once COVID restrictions lifted, only to realise that wasn’t necessarily the case.  It was in fact exacerbated by the acceleration of change that unfurled following the standstill, as well as such stark realities of cost-of-living increases and the climate change emergency.

Having worked in many places of war, oppression and extreme poverty, this phenomenon and accompanying question feels familiar. How do we keep going and rediscover hope in such difficult times, especially when the daily reality is quite challenging and all around us are equally negative or lacking hope?

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge our feelings of grief and hopelessness and not be ashamed that we are feeling what we are feeling. We are human and have limits and not appreciating those limits in the light of current challenges and change can result in us being far from the people of hope, peace and reconciliation that God created us to be. Jesus showed us the importance of knowing one’s limits and needing to be restored through time with God (whatever that looks like for each of us) on a daily basis.

Secondly, we need to pause before reacting. So often we can sink into being cynical, negative or defensive when we are overwhelmed and lacking hope. If our responses are reactive, words of cynicism, negativity and defensiveness can be passed on and enable a culture of negativity. By pausing, we can choose the words that can own how we feel but also leave the door open for possibility – “That sounds like a great idea, but I have to be honest I just don’t have the time or energy to do it justice to it at the moment. Is there another way we could think for this to happen or should we come back to this in a few months and see what is possible then?”

And thirdly, and most importantly, is trusting God. In our courses on change, Place for Hope talk about how most people understand the letting go and new beginnings phases of transition (whether in a relationship, systems, or ways of being), but it is in the interim ‘neutral zone’ phase that most of us struggle. We feel out of our comfort zone – we are waiting for certainty, that new beginning, a vision that we want to be a part of. As humans we don’t like uncertainty and may want to rush back to a previous status quo or to a new beginning in which we have more control. But it is actually in this uncomfortable, waiting time when we no longer feel in control that we most need to trust God, so new possibilities can emerge – a God-created, larger, more loving story that encompasses the realities of individual stories, fears, hopes, pain and joy of ourselves and others, and form us for something new.

Listening to and understanding our own stories and others’ stories is the foundation step of conflict transformation and change management. Opening ourselves to possibilities not yet conceived of what God’s larger, more loving story may be for us all is the cornerstone of faith-based conflict transformation and journeying well through transitions.

It is also the cornerstone of hope – that God has a larger, more loving story for our lives, our relationships, our church and our world, far beyond what we could ever imagine.

Carolyn Merry

Director, Place for Hope.

[Please find out more about Place for Hope’s support through mediation, facilitated conversations, coaching or explore our training programme here. All these services are free at the point of delivery under the joint Living Peace Programme between the Church of Scotland and Place for Hope.]