Anxiety, False Hope, and Sensucht

Everyone experiences anxiety to a certain extent. As a college student, it’s a part of my daily life. In the midst of homework and midterms, not to mention the overwhelming social climate, I began to seek “cures” for my anxiety. I found hope to be the most obvious solution. When I first realized that I needed hope in order to overcome my anxiety, I found myself falling into a pit of what I now call false hope.

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul” —Hebrews 6:19 (NRSV)

Many people who believe they are practicing hope are really just romanticizing the future. We exercise escapism and slap on the name-tag of hope. True hope is faith in the eternal and the infinite. Idealism, or “false hope,” for it is not truly hope at all, is wishful thinking for the future.

How can you differentiate between true hope and false hope? Look at your reaction. True hope looks at the present and says “thank you;” it is gratifying and holy. False hope looks at the future (or rather, a romanticized perception of the future) and says “please;” it is self-absorbing, distracting, selfish, unrealistic, and dissatisfying. Where does all this imperfection come from? Perfectionism. In our yearning for a better tomorrow, we destroys our todays.

If hope anchors us to the present and eternity, then false hope is looking ahead at the ocean of the future in anticipation. The future will never come because when the moment you looked forward to comes, you will already be waiting for what comes next. The self-absorption of romanticizing the future has an ironic influence on the present: it will prevent you from fulfilling your potential in the current moment.

Hope, as God intends is to be, is a lack of anxiety concerning eternity. However, our minds are often invaded by thoughts of what is yet to come. There are two potential outcomes of these worries. The first is anxiety, which diminishes any possibility of hope. The second outcome is false hope. Focusing on the future leads to the incorrect impression that one is experiencing hope. While the latter will be temporarily comforting, it is not a virtue, but rather a discrete form of idolatry. True hope is comparable to the German concept of sensucht, translated as  hoping not for the future, but for a deeper sensation of the present.

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from—my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” —C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

I’ve learned a lot in my first months of college, from computer programming to poetry and prosody. But the most valuable lesson was learning that the cure to anxiety is not looking toward something that might happen in the future, but being joyful because something wonderful is happening now.

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