Hope: Made For More
Standing in Jackson Square in the French Quarter, I stood and looked at St. Louis Cathedral. I love old churches and this iconic New Orleans landmark is one of my favorites. Here’s a little bit of history for you…it’s the oldest cathedral in North America. It was originally built in 1727 but later burned in the Great Fire. It was rebuilt in 1794 and remains open to this day. I love to walk inside and take in the intricate details in the paintings and stained glass. They tell a story that never gets old. The bells sing out every quarter hour, calling to saints and sinners alike. Mostly, the latter. There’s a lot of history here in the Quarter. You don’t have to look far to find all kinds of history, culture, entertainment, or good food. I grew up in Louisiana and I’ve been to New Orleans so many times over the years. Since I’ve been coming down to work with my friend whose ministry is to girls on the street and girls who work the clubs over on Bourbon, I can’t see New Orleans through the same eyes.
Earlier today, we spent a lot of time out on Tulane Ave, talking to the girls on the track. They trust my friend. She’s put in the time, built the relationships. The girls are honest about their struggles with addiction and how hard it is to leave the streets even though they long for a better life. They are weary and you can see the brokenness in their eyes. The heaviness and oppression is a tangible thing on that stretch of Tulane Ave.
I listened to my friend as she talked to a girl she’s known for quite a while. She began to speak into her destiny, declaring that God has a different plan for her life...something much bigger than what she’s doing now. Telling her that she won’t always be doing what she’s doing now…that there’s something more. Very softly, the girl said, “I hope so.” Just a few words, but clinging to that little phrase was a yearning, a longing for the possibility that there is more. That’s hope…and you know, there is power in hope.
It reminds me of a Johns Hopkins professor named Curt Richter. In the 1950s, he conducted a gruesome experiment where he took rats...12 domesticated lab rats at first. Richter put them in jar half filled with water and watched them drown. The idea was to measure the amount of time it took for them to give up and die. He noticed that with the exception of a few rats that quit swimming and drowned within a few minutes, 9 of the 12 swam for days before they eventually gave up and died. Next, Richter took 34 wild rats that had recently been trapped. They were fierce and aggressive. One by one, he dropped them into the water and what happened completely surprised him. Within minutes of going into the water, all 34 drowned. Richter wondered what killed the wild rats, the ones he’d expected to fight longer for survival. Why had they given up within minutes when the tame domesticated rats did not?
In a word: hope.
So Richter then tweaked the experiment. He took more rats and placed them in the water. This time, he waited until they were just seconds from death and then pulled them out. He held them for a little while, and then placed them back in the water. That reprieve, that small glimpse of rescue, made all the difference! The rats that had the brief reprieve swam much longer and lasted much longer than the rats that were left alone. They recovered almost immediately. See, when the rats learned that all was not doomed, that the situation was not lost, and that a helping hand was near, they did not give up and they did not go under.
“After elimination of hopelessness,” Richter wrote, “the rats do not die.”
The situation for many of the girls on the street seems hopeless. It may seem like a lost cause and a waste of time, but I’ve seen it…that little spark of hope. It’s noticeable shift in the eyes of a girl, the eyes that fill with tears and fill with hope when…if only for that moment…she hears that she isn’t forgotten. That God sees her. That His great love for her has not wavered. And that she has a purpose. She was made for more. That possibility helps her to keep going.
“I hope so,” she whispered. That kind of hope is a powerful thing.