Reality Television, Nelson Mandela, and Hope

by Mike McKinniss

reality-tvMany of us believe that in order to really be doing well in life, to truly feel like they are thriving, our circumstances–health, job performance, finances, love life, etc.–must be running more or less smoothly. We typically believe that things will be going well internally when things are going well externally. But this is not so.

Spend just ten mind-numbing minutes watching any kind of celebrity reality television, and you will not only relinquish your soul, but you will also find that you can have everything going for you and still be utterly miserable, no matter how shiny your Bentley.

Conversely, some of the poorest and most oppressed still retain an inner vibrancy that many long for. The late South African president Nelson Mandela comes to mind as one who, even while unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, seemed to effuse promise.

No, it is not positive circumstances, ultimately, that provides real buoyancy, but hope.

Hope, the expectation, regardless of external circumstances, that something good is coming, can at least keep us moving and at best give us the industrious purpose we need to push through difficult times towards a better future.

In my own journey, I have found that hope is indeed vital, but far more important is the actual locus of that hope.  Or perhaps I should say that where I’ve centered my hope has been critical to actually maintaining that hope and, with it, some vitality.

Too often, I tend to place my hope in some specific outcome. Following an interview, I’m eager for the job offer. I make a request of a friend and then I hope for a favorable response. Yet I find with alarming regularity that my vision is so narrow that I’ve completely misread the situation at hand and the outcome I had desired does not occur, nor was it ever likely to.

Far better to place my hope not in a particular result, but in God and his good character, without concerning myself too much with the particulars of where things land.

Everyone’s favorite keep-your-chin-up verse is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV). It is a salient reminder that even in the midst of the worst of circumstances, the Creator is tirelessly pursuing good. (And by good, we mean those things that bring life and peace and righteousness, which isn’t always a brand new convertible.)

What this means, in part, is that while I cannot always expect the Lord to bring about exactly the things I might hope for in a given situation, I must believe that he is always up to something good, even if I cannot yet see it and even if it is not what I had originally hoped. Far better to hope in God’s constant goodness than in the fickleness of anything else.

Armed with that knowledge, then, I think I could face just about anything, even possibly a night of celebrity reality television.