Hopeful and helpful

A recent book by Shane Lopez, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the psychology of hope, tells the remarkable story of Andy DeVries, who in 2002, at the age of 55, tried out for the Michigan Senior Olympics volleyball team.  Soon after the trials, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that crushed his left leg, and with it his competitive hopes.  Doctors drew a permanent-ink line across the middle of his left thigh to show Andy where they would have to amputate.

But Andy was befriended by a young physician’s assistant named Sarah Scholl, who gave him a reason to look past the dark present to a brighter future.  She bought him a pack of his favorite golf balls to help him envision a tomorrow in which he would once again stand on the green.  And having lost her father in high school, Sarah asked Andy to be the one to give her away at her wedding.  Never mind that Andy’s prognosis was still uncertain, nor that Sarah didn’t even have a boyfriend yet.  She had a firm hold on that vision, and wanted him to be part of it.

During rehab, Andy also received an encouraging phone call from the Senior Olympic volleyball coach, who gave him the good news that Andy had made the team.  Never mind the injury or the process of rehab.  The coach promised Andy a spot on the team if he could just show up, and stand up.

Needless to say, Andy threw himself into rehab with renewed determination.

Seven months later, he stood on the volleyball court.  He couldn’t compete at his previous level, but he contributed, and his team eventually won the gold.

And seven years later, Andy flew to Portland to walk Sarah down the aisle as promised.

Here is Lopez’s commentary:

Most of us are like Andy.  If we have a vision and plan for the future, we can’t help but be pulled forward by life, even when our present betrays us.  We start to create a narrative about a future self that competes with the old stories about ourselves.  As we fill in more details and take small steps in our future direction, our energy is freed up.  When we’re excited about “what’s next,” we invest more in our daily life, and we can see beyond current challenges.

Amen to all that.  But I confess to being disappointed by the summary.  In his emphasis on the psychology of hope in the individual, Lopez seems to brush past what to me is the most remarkable aspect of the story: the social, shared nature of hope.  Quite simply, Andrew DeVries would have found it difficult if not impossible to reach for such a positive future without people who believed in him, people who doggedly held out a more hopeful — even if seemingly unrealistic! — storyline.

In that way, Christian hope is no different.  The Bible holds out a vision of glory as the believer’s inheritance.  But how real is that hope to us, individually?  On “good” days, we may live without any conscious need of hope.  On bad days, biblical hope may seem like little more than a hazy daydream.

Christian hope can be neither the activity nor the possession of individuals only.  Hope must be communal.  Days — even months, years — will come in which we need others to hold that hope in trust for us.

Perhaps that in itself is part of our hope: looking around us at our fallible brothers and sisters, and envisioning a church full of hopeful, helpful relationships.  To whom can we be that kind of person?