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By Linda Lee Albert

(Page 2 of 3)

But there were challenges ahead. Jim had retired abruptly from his work, leaving me to handle our personal affairs in order to save him from stress, and his longtime trusted assistant to carry on in his behalf until we could figure out how to sell our investments and close down the business. He no longer went to the office and with no retirement plans in place, life appeared to be over as far as he was concerned. He spent long days sitting around the house in his bathrobe. I would try to perk him up by encouraging him to think of what still lay ahead for us - some of our children yet to marry - weddings to plan or attend - grandchildren to look forward to - new places to explore. But this only appeared to make him feel worse. He felt hopeless, and was ashamed of his inability to improve his spirits.

Then I learned from a nun, who was teaching a course for spiritual directors which I was taking at the time, that in Catholic tradition, hope is not considered something you can force into being through your own will power, but rather, is a gift from God that comes through grace. I was stunned to hear this.

Having grown up with the notion that “God helps those who help themselves,” I was a strong believer in action, in the idea that we have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps in order for anything worthwhile to happen. But things were not good at home and I was willing, as I usually am, to consider any idea that might be helpful. Sometimes the best gifts come when our backs are against the wall, or from worlds different than our own.

If it was true that we humans cannot actually will hope, then my efforts to persuade Jim to feel more hopeful were clearly failing for good reason. Not only that, they were undoubtedly exacerbating the pressure he felt under to find his way when the path he planned to be on had clearly closed down on him. I returned home, told him about what I had learned that day in class, and apologized.

If hope could only come as a gift, then there was nothing my husband could do to be hopeful when hope had disappeared. There was no point wasting energy beating himself up about his lack of success in trying to do the impossible. It was hard enough to be without hope. What he could do instead, we reasoned, what was still within his power, was to begin to hope for hope. It was a gentle recognition and a doable one.

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