two men in a dark space walking down a path toward a doorway of light

Choosing Hope

Last updated: April 2021

Death row - Indiana is a death sentence state. For several years, I was a volunteer chaplain on the row. According to the men on the cell block, I was the only religious representative who visited, and as such, I ministered as best I could to all faiths or those with no professed faith.

Learning lessons about hope

In truth, men of all faiths and those of no professed faith ministered to me at least as much as I did to them. In that place of darkness, I learned lessons about hope. I learned that hope is far more important than reality. You cannot choose reality but you can choose hope. No matter the truth of your situation or how dire it may appear, you can choose hope.

The uncertainty of death row and of cancer

A sentence of death is much like a diagnosis of cancer. Neither of them means anything, other than either may or may not take your life at some point in the future. I do not attempt to minimize either the sentence or the diagnosis; my point is simply that neither of them is for certain. People live decades on the row and die of old age. People live for decades with cancer and die of old age or something else.

Making plans for the future based on hope

But hope, hope is something with all the certainty you choose to give it. John (not his real name) was planning to further his college education. His execution date had come and gone 3 times. This was not the exception; this was the norm. These men were making plans for their futures based on hope. Hope and nothing more. No certainty. No rationale. No promise. Hope. Pure, unadulterated beautiful hope.

Choosing hope

Hope is free. It is readily available. You do not need an education or a password or a secret handshake only given on a full moon to those holding a muskrat tail. All you have to do is choose to do it. For hope to have full effect, we need to use it without checking facts or truths. We need to decide, “No matter the situation or the prognosis, I will choose to hope for the best.”


I asked one of the brethren on the row why he was so optimistic. He told me that to be anything else was a fool's errand. He knew his reality. He was well versed in the facts of his situation. That said, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by hoping his situation would improve. He asked me, “What does it benefit me to be pessimistic?” It was an exceptionally enlightening question.

Statistics don't mean much on an individual level

What does it benefit us to look at our diagnosis and refer to survival rates? Is anyone in the pool of test subjects me? Do they have my exact everything? Can they replicate who and what I am? No, no and no! I am the only me that will ever be. No one is or will ever be more me-er than me. So to base my mindset on what someone else’s outcome was is self-defeating.

Nobody can take hope away from me

I choose hope. I choose hope because men who were and are under a sentence of death taught me that hope is one of the few things that nobody can take from me. I can hang onto hope regardless of the situation or the outlook. I can choose to hope for better, and that hope alone will buoy my spirit and lift me from the mire and put my feet on a more well-lit path.

Hope can be a shelter

Today, right where you are, choose hope. In hope, all things are possible. I say, “in” instead of “with” by design. Hope can be a shelter, a place to snuggle into until a storm abates. Hope can carry us when our physical strength fails us.

I offer all who read this, HOPE. Glorious, unashamed and outrageous hope. Be blessed, my friends.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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