As Christians, hopefulness is not about walking through the world with rose coloured glasses, but believing that God will be with us no matter what trials we face. However, being a hopeful person is a bit of a workout. Here are 12 exercises that you can practice over 12 days this Christmas season, to keep your hope ‘muscles’ strong.
Before we can bring hope to the world, we have to cultivate hope within ourselves.
The first six exercises will take you on an internal journey. You’ll examine how hopeful you are, who’s hopeful around you, what Christian hope is, where is hope in the world and how you can find hope in hopeless situations.
The second six exercises focus on action steps for you to continue nurturing your hopefulness and extending it into the world during this Christmas season.
DAY 1: How hopeful are you?
Today, reflect on how hopeful you are in your life. Write a journal reflection, or brainstorm with bullet points or a mind map on ‘hope and you’.
Some questions to get you started: How do you define hope? What does hopefulness feel like?
What are you hopeful about? What are you not hopeful about? Do you consider yourself a hopeful person? Why or why not?
Remember: Hope can take a lot of faith. Reflect on when the world is crumbling around you, does your faith crumble and with it your hopefulness? What do you do to remind yourself to be hopeful during these times?
DAY 2: Who around you is hopeful?
As you move about your day, observe those around you that seem hopeful. What strikes you about them? How do they treat others? How do they treat themselves? Are they people of faith? What do they do with their time?
How do you feel when you are around hopeful people?
DAY 3: What is true Christian hope?
Look through the Gospels and find how Jesus taught us to be hopeful. What does Jesus say that you find hopeful?
Also check out the Letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles to discover how the early Christians lived Jesus’ message with hope. How did they show hope even when they faced persecution and death? What were they hopeful about? What can you learn about hope from the early Christians? How can you apply this to your daily life?
As you sift through the New Testament, write some hopeful verses down and put them up in your room, at your desk at school or work or save them in your phone or as your screensaver. Reading hopeful messages throughout the day will keep your hope vital signs strong!
DAY 4: Look for the helpers
When watching, listening or reading the news, we can all become a bit bogged down with the devastation and destitution throughout the world. One way to combat this sense of hopelessness is to look for the helpers. When the news reports on a natural disaster or tragedy, look for the rescue workers, the volunteers, the neighbours and strangers who are in the background helping.
Then, think of how today you can be a helper. Even if that means just picking up a piece of trash or holding the door open for someone else – small thoughtful actions can spread a bit of hope to a lot of people.
DAY 5: Make your dreams a reality!
There’s nothing more inspiring than watching someone living their life to the fullest! It gives others a permission slip to fulfil their dreams too!
List five dreams you have for your life. No matter what your dreams are you can start moving towards achieving them today – even if slowly.
If your goal is to graduate from university and you’re in Year 10, you could begin to make sure your grades are strong enough for when
you want to apply or start researching universities you might like to go to. If you want to start your own business or non-profit, but don’t know where to begin, why not make inquiries about volunteering in the business or industry you’re interested in?
Hopeful people don’t fear the future, but enjoy crafting it!
DAY 6: Living through problems
Although not every problem can be solved and some can be especially bleak, seeing the options and choices you do have can bring a feeling of hope even when facing the darkest of situations.
Pick a struggle you are currently facing and brainstorm all the different ways the problem could be approached. Your ideas may be as simple as changing your attitude towards your problem or talking it over with someone else and getting their perspective.
The more possibilities we see the more hopeful we become. Then start applying the different possible approaches to your problem.
Now that the first six days of our ‘12 days of Christmas Hope Challenge’ are finished, evaluate how your concept of hope has changed.
How do you understand Christian hope? Are you more of a hopeful person than you expected or less of one? Do you see hope in people you didn’t before? How is hope like a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened? How do you see hope can help you face life’s difficulties?
DAY 7: Change the environment around you
The physical spaces we inhabit can have a profound impact on our mood. Start with your own room and home. Can you tidy it up, let some more outside light in, and decorate it in some way? Is there music or pictures that you can play or put up that might improve the mood?
Now look at your school or workplace. Is it tidy and well looked after, or messy?
What impact is that having on the people there?
Is there something you can do to improve it?
Finally, think about your local environment. Brainstorm some ways you could get involved in keeping the environment around you clean and beautiful to live in.
DAY 8: Hand some jobs over to God
A God box is a small box (anything from a shoe box to a jewellery box where you can put your worries or concerns).
Sometimes we can become discouraged, because there are so many things wrong with the world or our family and friends are facing difficult times. Often these jobs are too big for us to fix.
They’re God’s jobs!
List all the things you can’t control: family members’ and friends’ choices, exam results, job promotions, international politics, disease or natural disasters, the government, etc.
Then, put your worries in your God box. Whenever you worry about them, remind yourself, ‘God’s got it!’. (And every so often, remember to say a prayer for the things in your God box.)
Now, list all the things you can control: your attitude, who you hang out with, how you spend your time, if you pray, if you volunteer, etc and go make a difference!
When we realise what is actually within our capability and responsibility, we can step out of discouragement and into hope.
DAY 9: Pull down fences
Whenever you have groups of people, it’s very easy for cliques to form. One way to be a person of hope at your school (or workplace) is to pull down those social fences. Create a lunchtime or after school retreat where anyone can participate.
A couple ideas for your lunchtime retreat:
Start a lunchtime or after school forum – where people can pick topics to discuss, debate or have a friendly chat.
Just play board games and hang out.
Get permission from school to start a lunchtime inspirational movie club.
You could create a list of hopeful movies or documentaries to inspire those who turn up.
DAY 10: Reach out to others in need
One way to become or remain hopeful is to witness others pull through difficult times especially when we encouraged and support them through it.
Volunteering can be a way to breed hope in yourself and others.
Look up some organisations around you that need volunteers. Send out some inquiries about how you can become involved. This is the day that you can start to have a real impact on the lives of others.
DAY 11: Make hope go viral
Pope Francis encourages us to, ‘Find new ways to spread the word of God to every corner of the world.’
So to follow Pope Francis’ suggestion, flip through your Bible or search online for quotes from saints, famous Catholics or inspiring people. Then post them on your social media page.
If you’re feeling creative take some pictures, write your own inspirational phrases and then create your own inspirational image. You never know whose day you may brighten or who you may inspire hope within.
DAY 12: Start a ‘silver linings playbook’
Keep a journal of all the incidences troubling you in the last week, month or year that have turned out sunny side up!
What did you do to make it work?
Can you see how God carried you through your fears and anxiety?
If some things haven’t worked out, how did you see God work through the situation?
What came out of it that was positive?
Now, when you’re anxious about something – go back to your journal to remind yourself that things often work out for the best – not always, but mostly (especially if we remain hopeful).
Now that your ‘12 days of Christmas Hope Challenge’ has come to an end, how do you think being a hopeful person can impact the world around you? How does being hopeful on the inside lead to hopeful action?
Looking back over the past 12 days, have you seen a change in your outlook on hope, life’s difficulties (and possibilities) and taking action? Are you more hopeful? Why or why not? What exercise(s) will you use beyond this 12-day challenge?
View the reflection questions and activities for 'The Twelve Days of Christmas Challenge' here