A dose of realism, a sprinkle of hope

Robert Hunt, director of global theological education at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, talks about the need to be realistic and hopeful.

By Leslie Garcia

During these times of layoffs and foreclosures, of unsettlement and uncertainty, we seek the certain. The hopeful. The reassurance that yes, everything is going to be OK.

On days when I am my mother's daughter, I believe this unequivocally. I see sunshine in the shadows, a rainbow in the clouds. I am one of the Mary Poppins children, jumping into a chalk painting on a rainy-day sidewalk, emerging in an animated setting with a merry-go-round on the horizon.

During other moments, I can't be sunny. At least not with much conviction. Because, truth to tell, everything isn't always going to be OK. Bad things do happen. Loved ones die. We lose what we worked a lifetime to achieve.

Which is where we call upon that bastion of being human: spirit and attitude. Granted, some of us come by that more easily, being genetically optimistic. Yet some of us are not.

"So the trick is sometimes for those of us who are always hopeful to be realistic in our hope," says Robert Hunt, director of global theological education at Perkins School of Theology at SMU.

"And for those who tend to not be hopeful, to be rational in our non-hopefulness and realize it's not as bad as it looks."

Sometimes we get stuck in the moment, he says. Or if we do look to the future, it's only to prolong what is happening now.

Projecting pain

"One of our problems is that we're good at projecting pain in the future, but we're often pretty bad at projecting our hope in the future – positive change," says Dr. Hunt.

During the seven years he was a missionary in Malaysia, he heard a lot about the wheel of life.

"It turns," he says. "It brings us some bad things, but it always turns. It never stops at one place. Our tendency is to get so focused on where we think we've stopped that we don't see the motion."

This reminds me of my mother in December or January, when the landscape looks like a black-and-white photograph, and color appears only in our dreams. She looks at a branch and somehow, beneath the dead bark, sees spring: the tiniest of green buds, getting ready to bloom for a thousand reasons, none of which we can actually see. Not yet.

Dr. Hunt looks at his watch in much the same way: "The second hand is moving," he says. "The minute hand is, but I can barely force myself to stare at it long enough to move. The hour hand, I lack the concentration to see its movement.

"But if we were able to look inside the watch, we'd see there are little wheels going 90 miles per hour! Spinning! All that is still happening. In this moment we're suffering, and we're just focused on suffering, all that other stuff is happening."

The day we speak, Dr. Hunt is in the beginning stages of a cold, which he uses to further make his point.

"At this very instant, my immune system is kicking into high gear," he says. "All I can feel are a stuffy nose and scratchy throat and a little bit of tiredness. Underneath, my body is going to figure out what to do."

Confidence endures

It has done just that for every cold he has had during his 52 years of life. And he's confident his body will come through again.

"Take that knowledge and project it into the future and realize that probably is the future," he says. "My past experience isn't that I'll get sicker and sicker, but that I'll get well."

We say goodbye. I hang up the phone. If a Mary Poppins carousel is on the horizon, I don't see it, but merely because my desk isn't even close to a window. I do, though, feel a bit like my mother's daughter: Searching, if not for a rainbow, at least for a bit of mottled sunshine.

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