One of the simple pleasures of waking up before sunrise is watching the world transition slowly from dark to light. Paying attention to this moment is for me a way of prayer, a habit of contemplation and centering before the busyness of the day. That was my plan this morning. But when I opened the curtains of my hotel room, my view of the world was blocked by a drab stucco wall–not the most lovely way to begin the day!
And that’s life, right? We’d much prefer our days to unfold in expected, positive, and productive ways, but we open the curtains of life, and an unexpected wall is blocking the view. What walls block your view? What obstacles block your way? What barriers stand between where you are and where you need to be?
Most of the daily walls are mere inconveniences, routine struggles and frustrations that leave us worn out and weary. And sometimes, we encounter walls that are more substantial, obscuring and blocking the road ahead. And on occasions, we crash into walls that are truly insurmountable—border walls crowned with concertina razor wire, imposing barriers to experiencing goodness in life.
Real walls most often have useful functions, but some represent fear, separation, and oppression. Metaphorically, they nearly always carry negative meaning. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall / That wants it down…” wrote Robert Frost in his lament concerning the walls that needlessly but habitually separate one from another. We build our own walls, or other people hem us in, or circumstances simply become impassable obstacles and inescapable prisons, or all of these combine to form an unsolvable maze.
Quite simply, life comes with challenges, and some of those challenges are awfully overwhelming. My wall this morning only innocuously blocked a view, but from time to time, we face walls that insidiously block life.
Despite the challenges, though, there is always hope.
When I moved closer to the window and changed my perspective a bit, I saw above the wall a thin sliver of the waning crescent moon framed in a tangle of tree branches. I had to move to see it. I had to take notice of the natural beauty above the wall. And when I looked down, I saw a flock of pink azaleas rounding the corner. Again, I had to move to see it. I had to take notice of life extending beyond the wall. Yes, the wall was still there. But a change of perspective allowed me to see some beauty despite the wall, allowed me to see life beyond the wall.
Life indeed comes with challenges. And some of those challenges can be truly overwhelming. But even in the midst of the most insurmountable challenges, I think there is always (or at least, nearly always) some new perspective that can give rise to hope. You may have to move to see it. You certainly have to take notice of the signs. You may even need to create a little graffiti on your own. And I don’t pretend any of this is a small matter.
I want to be clear about what I am not saying: I am not saying that overcoming serious difficulties is merely a matter of changing perception. It would be cruel and callous to glibly ignore the gravity of people’s circumstances. Walls can be significant barriers to traveling a road toward wholeness, goodness, and life-building purpose, and I would never minimize the suffering that people endure. But in my experience and from listening to the stories of others, I’ve learned that a change in perspective can at least allow us to see signs of hope, however small, even in the presence of the most formidable and imposing obstacles.
It takes some practice to notice signs of hope. St. Paul wrote, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). This line is rich in meaning too deep for just a few paragraphs, but notice that Paul connects the notion of hope with the Holy Spirit, the energy and presence of God whose intent is deep joy and peace even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Catching a glimpse of hope isn’t wishful thinking; rather, it’s a matter of centering on the loving presence of God who opens the perception to see paths around the walls, ways over and under the walls, or even cracks in walls.
A new vision of hope can become inspiration that ignites imagination. And imagination can lead to creative alternatives, new connections with people who can help, patient work on long-term solutions, and small actions that can become wall-breaking movements. You’ll likely have to move to see it. You’ll definitely have to take notice. And you may have to add some of your own graffiti. But despite the wall, there is hope.