Cultivating Hope in the Muck of Life

Feb 1, 2022 | 4 comments

A friend recently shared a photo that depicted a dark Kansas sky with a rainbow of light peering around a tree. The light of the sun was shining through the middle of the tree and a hallow of light was cresting around the tree. At the side and top of the rainbow shape light dawned on each point. It took my breath away and my heart was lifted up. There are times in our lives when light can’t be ignored and our hearts are lifted high. Strangely, light seems to make more of an impression on us when the surroundings are dark. This image gives me so much hope, as I experience “darkness” and uncertainty in so many aspects of life. I think it can offer you hope too.

Uncertainty and shifting circumstances have become the norm for the whole world, and for cross cultural workers this norm already existed and is now exacerbated. Sudden movements on and off the field have taken place, waiting to go, having to stay, not knowing what to do to move forward. Sometimes I wonder how much stress an individual can manage. Inventories exist that can assess such things, but so much of it is specific to each person as well. Most cross-cultural workers will rank very high on these stress inventories. Is there anything that can make us more resistant to stress? Is there anything that can give us increased ability to navigate difficult circumstances? 

As a grief specialist, I spend much of my time considering and helping people who are grieving and in deep pain. I am happy to tell you that it is often through the “darkest valley” (Psalm 23) that the greatest hope is experienced and resilience can be gained. I am not sure why this is, but I do know that hope is a gift that we all can receive no matter how dark and complicated our current sludge of life is.

As the Psalmist declares, “Even in darkness the light dawns for the upright…They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.” Psalm 112: 4a & 7-8.

Sometimes my husband and I watch Grey’s Anatomy and mostly find it to be entertaining. There is one scene where Amelia, a brilliant brain surgeon, is struggling with intimidation before a big brain surgery. She stands in a Wonder-Woman Stance in front of the operating table and looks up. Her hands are on her hips, her chest is open and her head is looking up. She calls it a “power stance.” She is then ready to conquer the surgery and save the person who would have otherwise died. 

This struck me as our posture and stance, physically, emotionally and spiritually, when we look up it gives us the ability to press on and do the hard thing. Look at what God has done. When we posture ourselves to look up, our perspective changes and our brain/body chemistry changes.

According to Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., a behavioral psychologist, “When people sit or stand with their bodies taking up space, arms expanded, legs open, they produce more testosterone and less stress hormones. They are also more likely to take risks.” Here are the links to the article and TED Talk for a more in-depth look.

This made so much sense to me when I read the article and listened to the TED Talk. Has God not created us and taught us to be people who hope and cultivate hope in our own lives, in our hearts and in our minds?

Consider this passage from Psalm 121:1&2, “I lift my eyes to the hills where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Even the act of looking up physically, mentally, and emotionally gives us benefit. The act of looking away from ourselves, opening up our bodies, our minds, and our spirits changes us. Research like that cited above tells us that our body matters and how we hold it matters; it gives us a change in the chemistry of our bodies. 

“I lift my eyes to the hills.” When I hear this, I think about lifting up my head, pulling back my shoulders and looking out of the muck. Study after study confirms that opening up and looking out of yourself is helpful to our well-being. 

The beautiful thing about scripture is we are not looking at some feeble thing to provide hope. We have a God who is what we long for. “Some will trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). The Bible is filled with the theme of hope: “But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish” (Psalm 9:18).

As you consider this topic of hope, make a list of the things you are feeling hopeless about. Consider your pain, your grief, your sorrow, and the things that feel hopeless. Then go back and invite the God of hope to lift up your eyes and show you hope through His Spirit. “I lift my eyes to the hills where does my help come from?”

It is a lifelong journey for us all to cultivate hope. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13).

Christ died for your sins . . . but sometimes it’s tricky to sort out healthy guilt, unhealthy guilt, and shame, especially as a cross-cultural worker. Knowing the difference is good, but it’s only the first step. Now what? In this workshop Shonna will help you identify what you are experiencing (healthy? or unhealthy?) but even more, what to DO about it. Don’t jump over this crucial 102 piece of the equation. Get Forgiveness 102 today.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Katie Brown

Wife, Mama, Counselor, Friend, Grief Specialist




  1. Jenilee

    Love this, Katie. Thank you!

  2. Katie Brown

    Thank you Jenilee! May we all be renewed in our hope.

  3. Jenn

    We just walked through a tough medical crisis and all alone in an elevator at some point in the crisis I lifted up my hands & started worshiping. There was a difference; I felt stronger & more able to face the crisis. Worship was my lifeline that week & hope has flourished in my heart during our darkest hour. Thank you for researching grief, and sharing your insights with us!

  4. Katie Brown

    Jenn that is so beautiful thank you for sharing! The presence, kindness and love of God is amazing. There is nothing like worship to give us hope and put our gaze in the place where our needs can be met.


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