It’s Monday–Exercising Your Hope Muscle

I broke out of my workout routine last week and regretted it, for the moment, yet in the end it reinforced a simple principle—use it or lose it.

I try to work out four times a week, forty-five minutes at a time, primarily lifting weights. When I feel guilty not doing much cardio work, I’ll run a lazy-paced two miles just to say I did something. Then, it’s back to the weights.

Last week, I sensed it was time for something different. So I created a focused workout with just two exercises–.25 mile sprints on the treadmill (mind you, I’m a 53 year old guy so the word sprint is a relative term) on ascending speeds followed by lunges around ½ of the indoor track. Sprint/lunge. Sprint/lunge. Sprint/lunge for thirty minutes.

It was exhilarating and exhausting. I loved it… until the next morning. When I stepped out of bed the pain neurons in my brain lit up. I hurt in muscles I didn’t know I had and wasn’t even aware I had exercised. In your physical body, it’s true—if you don’t use it, you lose it.

I wonder if that isn’t also true for your spirit. I wonder if hope is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly or we lose it.

For a few weeks following the election I was numb—emotionally spent and despondent from listening to story after fretful story, primarily from young people fearful for their future. I heard from a Muslim friend of my son who was anxious for himself and his family. I had three gay students in their teens and early 20’s directly contact me because of their fear for personal safety. I was sent a photo of a handwritten note shoved under a student’s dorm room door threatening physical violence if they don’t go back to their “own” country.

Now, I’m a white male in his 50’s. Chances are whatever the administrations look like in the remaining few decades of my life, I’ll figure it out. But, I found myself leaping down the rabbit hole of despair when I thought about my kids, their friends, and particularly those who have already been disenfranchised based on their ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

Let me tell you, when you don’t exercise the muscle of hope for any period of time, you feel like you lose it.

Then, a strange thing happened at the exit ramp off of 270 at Morse Road. As I exited I saw a carelessly dressed man, shivering in the damp cold, holding a barely legible cardboard sign. My first thought was “I hope I hit a green light and can drive past quickly.” As dumb luck would have it, the light turned red and I was forced to stop right in front of him and confront both his present life circumstance (whatever it was that brought him there) and my present state of heart.

The red light was interminable, giving ample time for the cash in my wallet to burn a hole in my pocket. And then, the nagging internal question, “You are despairing for a world that seems to be increasing concerned only for itself, what are you—not everyone else—what are you going to do?”

So, I rolled down my window and we talked for a few seconds while the drivers behind me honked their horns frantically so the could make the light (or not get stuck in front of this man). I handed him the cash I had and drove off.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I’m such a great person for giving that man some cash or that you should stop and give money to everyone on the exit ramps. Was I getting scammed? Maybe. Maybe not. In the end, that’s not the point.

What happened for me is this: In flexing a hope muscle for the first time in many days; in breaking out of my routine of just driving by and not noticing; I felt more alive, more connected with the plight of humanity, more convinced that small acts of generosity, of kindness still matter in this world.

I’m still aware of how much work there is yet to do. But, by exercising the hope muscle, I felt…more hopeful.

It’s Monday: The season of Advent is about expectant hope. How can you exercise your hope muscle today? Peace. Kai