Action and Hope: Sustaining Purposeful Activity

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"Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." -Acts 2:43-47

Hope is not just a vague feeling that somehow things will become better. Hope involves action and action is what moves us toward the things we hope for. Hope inspires action, and action begins to realize our hopes.

But not all action is helpful or constructive. Action born of frustration or compulsion seldom achieves positive results. While this form of activity may be characterized by initial energy and promise, it quickly fades or becomes sidetracked. Neither frustration nor compulsion is a good motivation for the long journey of positive and constructive action.

Action inspired by guilt or duress is not helpful either. Action as therapy, embarked upon to rid us of a sense of guilt, becomes action that soon looks away from achieving the general good. It finally becomes self-seeking and self-serving, for it only looks to what it can do for us.

Action under duress is limited action as well. Before long, resentments will cause us to abandon the things we are made to do, and we will begin to subvert the system in some way.

Purposeful action should not spring from frustration, compulsion, guilt, or duress. It should come from freedom and hope. And hope will be all the more significant and powerful when the eye of faith can see its final realization.

Nouwen reminds us that action "is not a fearful attempt to restore a broken order." Such action assumes too much, for we are not sufficiently wise and all-seeing. And we would never be able to sustain our action in order to achieve such a monumental outcome. We would become overwhelmed in the attempt.

Instead, as Nouwen rightly reminds us, action "is a joyful assertion that in Christ all order has already been restored." Such action works out of a final promise, not toward such a promise. It springs from a believed goal, rather than making such a goal believable. Such hope not only inspires our action, but makes it sustainable.

DARE TO JOURNEY WITH HENRI NOUWEN by Charles Ringma is published by Pinon Press, 2000.

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