Why curiosity is better than hope

By Rev. Margaret Marcuson

A colleague said to me recently about an institutional challenge: “I’m feeling a little hopeful.”

I responded, “I recommend being curious instead.”

I talk to a lot of people nowadays who are anxious, outraged or both. It’s contagious! In the middle of the challenges we face in our churches, our nation and our world, we may feel like we have to drum up hope in ourselves and others.

However, I think it’s more productive to generate curiosity. Hope in the short term can be problematic. How could this be? Well, we don’t simply live “in hope.” We hope for something in particular. Often we end up overly invested in a specific outcome. We do our best to bring it about. We tend to be willful toward others. And we take an emotional fall when our hoped-for outcome doesn’t come to pass.

For example, in parenting, it’s natural to hope your kids turn out well. Parents often have specific hopes for them: that they go to a particular college, enter a specific profession, live in a certain place (nearby). Yet specific hopes for our children can cause us to relate to them in ways that undercut the very outcome we desired. They feel the pressure, and they resist.

The same is true for church leaders. We hope that our churches will (fill in the blank: grow in numbers, give more financially, reach out to the community). We hope so badly for these ministry possibilities that we willfully try to make them happen.

What to do instead? Think of yourself as a researcher. The old Chinese curse said, “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly do. So what do you notice that’s interesting about the world around you? What do you see?

You may say, “Curiosity just doesn’t seem like enough.” Yet remember that curiosity can lead to creative engagement: “I notice that there’s a new community of immigrants near our church. Some of our people are anxious about it; others are interested. What are some creative ways I can connect with that community, while remaining in touch with our own congregation? Perhaps I could invite someone to join me.”

Four questions to ask

Here are questions to stimulate your own curiosity about what’s around you:

  1. What do I notice about our world that interests me right now?
  2. What do I know about the story of my own community that makes me curious to learn more?
  3. What do I notice in myself (frustration, anger, sadness, joy, satisfaction, peace), as I observe what’s going on?
  4. What one area of effort seems to draw my attention? That may be a prompting of God.

I’m still hopeful, of course. I trust that God is at work in large and small ways in our world and in our lives. Yet, day by day, on the ground, I’m doing my best to bring my curiosity to bear in these areas of our world and my life:

  • about our leaders,
  • about the world,
  • about the church,
  • about the church leaders with whom I work,
  • about my own congregation,
  • about my family and
  • about myself.

Finally, curiosity can lead toward hope. God’s creative work in human beings is far from finished. Scripture does speak powerful words of hope, in the longer term: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

So don’t give up hope. But start with curiosity. What can you notice in your life and in our world, today?

Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources. Find her at http://margaretmarcuson.com/

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.