The 116 Life Episode 45: Holding on To Hope with John O

Welcome to another episode of The 116 Life. In this episode, we had the pleasure of hosting John O., a man of many talents – a culture maker, author, speaker, storyteller, and influencer. Tune in as we discuss how to find hope in the midst of grief and depression.

A Journey from the Basketball Court to the Pulpit

Our conversation kicked off with a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about our basketball days. John O.’s leadership on the court was instrumental in our team’s success. But his journey didn’t stop there. From being a pastor to now focusing on building teams to solve problems and bring beautiful things into the world, John O.’s life has been a testament to the power of understanding why people do what they do, rather than just focusing on their job titles.

Grief as a Language

John O. opened up about his personal experiences with grief and loneliness, which have inspired him to help others hold on to hope. He shared a personal story about a moment of anger and frustration that led him to realize that depression and hope are not solely based on circumstances. This realization came during a sabbatical from his church, which allowed him to focus on his own mental health.

During this time, he found solace in the book of Ecclesiastes, particularly the opening lines that spoke about the meaninglessness of life. This shifted his perspective on grief, seeing it as a language rather than a condition.

The Experience of Grieving

John O. compared the feeling of grief to being in a foreign country where nobody speaks your language. He emphasized the hopelessness that sets in when you’re grieving ambiguously and calling out for help, but nobody understands.

He shared his own awakening to the reality of grief after experiencing personal losses and how it changed his perspective on life and faith. He mentioned his friends, Jordan and Jessica Rice, who both lost their spouses at a young age and how their experiences shaped their outlook on relationships and the importance of expressing love and forgiveness.

The Power of Hope and Optimism

John O. shared his realization about the power of hope and optimism in the face of tragedy. He was inspired by older people who had gone through difficult experiences but still maintained a positive outlook on life. He realized that a good life is not determined by the presence or absence of tragedy, but by one’s resolve and attitude towards it.

Coffee and Grief: A Metaphor

John O. used his love for coffee as a metaphor for processing grief. Just like people often avoid drinking black coffee because of its bitterness, many people also avoid processing their grief because it can be painful. However, he learned that by leaning into the bitterness of grief, one can discover the subtle sweetness that comes with it.

Navigating Grief During the Holiday Season

As the holiday season approaches, many people may find it difficult to enjoy the festive season due to the loss of loved ones. John O. emphasized that it’s okay to feel sad, especially for people of faith who often feel pressured to be whole. He reassures us that it’s possible to be sad and still believe that God is good.

He encourages people to honor their loved ones by allowing themselves to focus on the loss and not feeling guilty about being sad. He also highlights the importance of finding a safe space to share their feelings and not letting grief consume every aspect of their lives.


John O.’s insights on grief, hope, and resilience are a beacon of light for those navigating the murky waters of loss. His work in creating events, resources, and products that combine different art forms like books, music, film, and comedy, aims to help people explore and process grief in a holistic way.

Remember, it’s okay to grieve, it’s okay to feel sad, and it’s okay to lean into the bitterness of grief to find the subtle sweetness that comes with it.

The 116 Life Ep. 45 John O and wife finding hope
John and his wife
The 116 Life Ep. 45 John O and daughter finding hope
John with his daughter


The introduction of John O (00:00:26) Introducing John O as a guest on the show and discussing past experiences playing basketball together.

John O’s background as a pastor (00:01:10) Talking about John O’s background as a pastor and his leadership skills on the basketball court.

John O’s mission statement (00:03:27) John O talks about his mission to bring beautiful things into the world by building teams that solve problems.

The language of grief (00:13:27) Grief is compared to a language that needs fluency, not a race with a finish line. The speaker shares their own experience and the importance of finding others who speak the same language of grief.

Shared human experience (00:17:29) The speaker discusses how grief is a shared human experience, regardless of faith. They talk about how everyone experiences loss and the inevitability of grief in life.

Tangible and ambiguous grief (00:19:53) The speaker distinguishes between tangible grief, which is more commonly recognized, and ambiguous grief, which includes the death of dreams, relationships, and marriages. They emphasize the impact of ambiguous grief and how it affects individuals.

The grief experience (00:21:01) Discussion on the experience of grief, feeling alone in the grieving process, and the analogy of language barriers.

The inevitability of disappointment (00:22:10) Exploring the sobering realization that disappointment is inevitable in life, and how it can shape one’s perspective and understanding of faith.

Grief as an ongoing conversation (00:24:26) Describing grief as an ongoing conversation rather than a one-time event, and the importance of acknowledging the reality of loss and impermanence.

Tragedy and Hope (00:32:45) Discussion on how tragedy doesn’t define a person’s life and how hope can be held onto in difficult times.

Using Coffee as a Metaphor for Grief (00:34:11) Exploring the complexity of grief and how people often avoid processing it, similar to how people avoid drinking black coffee.

Creating Events and Resources for Grief (00:40:02) The unique approach of creating events, books, music, and films as resources for exploring and understanding grief.

The Holiday Season and Grief (00:44:56) Discussion about how the holiday season can be difficult for those who have lost someone close to them and how to navigate through it.

Permission to Be Sad (00:45:44) Encouragement for people of faith to allow themselves to feel sadness and understand that it is okay to be sad while still believing that God is good.

Feeling What You Feel (00:48:29) Advice on embracing both joy and sorrow without feeling guilty, and allowing oneself to freely experience and express emotions without explanation.

Related Radio Show: 116 Life