Summary: We need hope -- and especially when we have none.
When I was in high school, our football team was the worst in the state. Game after game, year after year, we lost.
In my Freshman year, I would go to the football games and see signs that read, "Destroy Anderson High." And we would lose the game.
In my Sophomore year, I would go to the football games and I noticed the signs had softened just a bit so that I would see signs that read, "Hurt J.L.Mann High." And we would lose the game.
In my Junior year, I would go to the football games and I noticed the signs had softened up a little bit, and I would see signs that read, "Maintain Dignity Against Dixie High." And we would lose the game.
In my Senior year, I would go to the football games and I noticed the signs had softened up a little bit more, and I would see signs that read, "Welcome Greenwood High." And we would lose the game.
My high school seemed to be a school without hope. Then one day, when I was in college, I picked up the newspaper and there was a banner headline. "Woodmont High School Breaks 72 Game Losing Streak."
The reporter interviewed the coach and he was asked to explain how they finally won a game. All he could say was, "It’s about time."
Amazingly enough, they won the next game.
And then, incredibly enough, they won the game after that.
This time when the reporter interviewed the coach, the coach explained their wins by saying, "All we needed was hope. Somewhere around the 20th or 30th loss, our school started accepting the fact that we always lose. We forgot that it is possible to win. I’ve been teaching tactics and strategies and working these boys out in practice, but that is not what helped us win. All we needed to win was the one thing we had lost long ago. Hope."
Several years ago, my son was playing on a baseball game, and like my high school football team, they simply couldn’t find a way to win. They’d lost every game that year. Finally it was the day of their last game. The dug out was like a funeral home. Not a single kid was cheering the other kids as they went to bat. They were just waiting for the game to be over so they could go home.
I stuck my head in the dug out and told these 7 year olds, "Hey guys, you can win this game. After all, you’re only 25 runs behind."
One of the kids heard me and said, "Hey, that’s right. We are only 25 runs behind. We’ve never been this close to winning before."
It was as if there was an electric jolt that went through the dug out. When the next kid at bat hit the ball right so that it rolled through the legs of the first baseman, the entire dug out was celebrating and high fiving each other. The excitement and confidence of our team must have totally confused the other team.
In the bottom of the last inning, one of our players scored the winning run.
I remember thinking that if I had known all they needed was hope, I would have visited the dug out long before that last game.
I remember reading several years ago about an experiment that was conducted by the psychology department of Duke University. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container they placed a rat for whom there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container they made the hope of escape possible for the rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of our common conclusion. We usually say, "As long as there is life, there is hope." The Duke experiment proved, "As long as there is hope, there is life." (Bruster & Dale, How to Encourage Others)
Someone once said, "Cynicism is cancer of the spirit. The bad cells of hopelessness attack the good cells of the soul and, if undiagnosed, will eventually destroy the soul. (Fred Smith)
We need hope in our lives.
But we all know what it is like to feel that all hope is gone.
In our Old and New Testament readings we encounter the experience of a loss of hope.
In the Old Testament, Ezekiel stands before a great battlefield. He sees before him a valley of dry bones. The battle is long over with. The vultures have been there and gone and all the flesh has disappeared. Even the armor has been stolen by the grave robbers. All that is left is a valley of dry bones.