Consolation Beyond a Smile – Stepping Forward with Hope in Things Unseen

June 25, 2023

The idea of hope is never far from my mind. One only has to turn on the TV, visit a news website, or scroll through social media to be bombarded with headlines about the state of the world–most full of doom and division. As a middle-aged Millennial, existential questions about my own life and purpose are frequently on my heart, especially in a world overwhelmed by climate change, environmental devastation, extreme polarization, racism, poverty and inequity, war and gun violence, and so many other modern-day plagues. It doesn’t take long to feel saddled with hopelessness and wonder what, exactly, we are working for when the forces stacked against the world God calls us to create seem so insurmountable. It can be easy to get stuck in a place of desolation and be tempted to question how much our words and actions really matter.

Yet Jesus would be the first one to reassure us that hoping against the odds, against all that we see as unjust around us, is not a foolish, romantic thing at all, but rather the bread and butter of the spiritual life. Jesus’s life and ministry were centered around a deep hope in God’s promises. Being “Resurrection People” means living with faith that the resurrection promised by Jesus will one day be ours and that, until then, we’ll be given small, ordinary moments of newness, beginnings, and hope as sustenance.

Similarly, Paul reminded the Hebrews that “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). To the Romans, Paul wrote, “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). 

St. Ignatius, too, affirmed the importance of hope in our prayer and discernment. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius described consolation as “every increase in hope, faith, and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord” (#316). When we feel a deepened sense of hope for ourselves, others, or our world, Ignatius would identify this as consolation, as something that turns toward God and toward others. 

I am grateful to have what I consider to be a rich prayer life and numerous spiritual practices that provide me with a framework for engaging my questions around the many issues plaguing humanity and our planet. Still, acting from a place of hope often requires a huge leap of faith and trust in God and God’s accompaniment through the unknowns. Having hope can be quite countercultural. 

In the past five years, those existential questions have taken on new meaning as my husband and I have welcomed our three children while wondering what world we will pass on to them. I’ve been told that having kids is the most hope-filled, revolutionary thing one can do in today’s day and age. It means believing that a better world on this side of the grave is possible–not just something that must be endured to one day reach eternal life in God’s Kin-dom. As I look at my three boys, so full of life and energy and spirit and not yet aware of most of the collective challenges facing us collectively, I find consolation and reassurance. I deeply believe that the boundless love they call forth from me and all those fortunate enough to know them has a ripple effect and that their very existence brings light, life, and goodness into a broken world.

Right now, in this season of early parenthood when the days feel like an endless series of preparing meals and snacks, getting shoes on tiny feet, cleaning ouchies, reading books, and kissing soft foreheads before bed, my boys ground me in some of the most important things in life: relationships, compassion, forgiveness, love. They are my biggest source of consolation when I think about the life I am called to lead and the ways in which I am invited to deepen my journey as a disciple of Christ. If choosing something makes me feel more hopeful and joyful for my sons’ futures (and, in turn, the futures of all children), then it’s a sure sign to me that I’m moving in the right direction. That increase in hope is a marker of consolation that reassures me that God is guiding me and walking alongside me. It also reassures me that God will be with my children and all those who come after me, too.

Henri Nouwen said, “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.” Is this not a main goal of our spiritual journey–greater freedom to follow Jesus and let go of the things that restrict us? Hope enables us to think outside of our mind’s narrow confines and to join God in imagining something more, something greater, to which we are called. May our own discernments be fueled by a deepening hope in God’s work and in our place in it.

Going Deeper:

  • Spend some time reflecting on and praying over these words from Pope Francis about Christian hope. Where do you find hope in your life in general? What might an increase in this type of hope look like regarding a decision you are in the process of making?

“Christian hope…is very important, because hope never disappoints. Optimism disappoints, but hope does not. We have such need in these times that can appear dark, in which we sometimes feel disoriented by the evil and violence that surround us, by the distress of so many of our brothers and sisters. We need hope. We feel disoriented and even rather discouraged, because we are powerless and it seems this darkness will never end. We must not let hope abandon us, because God, with his love, walks with us” (from Pope Francis’s General Audience, 7 December 2016).

  • Often the focus of the Examen is more on the past and present (steps 1-4) as one reviews the day. Next time you use this prayer, spend a little more time on the final step that invites looking toward tomorrow. Where do you desire greater hope? How might you ask God to make hope a part of your own discernment processes?


Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Kristen has been deeply shaped by Ignatian spirituality during her time as an undergrad at St. Louis University, a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize City, and a graduate student at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago. She has worked in Catholic parish ministry, community organizing, spiritual direction, volunteer support and formation with Jesuits Volunteer Corps, and ministry with people with developmental/intellectual disabilities. She spent her most recent professional chapter as a pediatric hospital chaplain and now works in chaplain research. Kristen is passionate about accompanying others through the highs and lows of their lives and spiritual journeys and about joining with others to co-create a Church and world with greater justice, equity, and inclusion for all. She lives in Chicago with her spouse Patrick and their three young sons.

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