At some point in my life I gave up on the idea of hope. Well, sort of. It’s more that I gave up expressing or acknowledging my hopes. I didn’t want it to be known that I had my hopes up for something. I suppose I still wished for things, hoped for them, but I’d be danged if I would say so.
I remember the moment when I officially decided not to say out loud, or indicate in any way by facial expression or other subtlety, that, yes, I actually wanted a thing. Sixth grade, Mrs. Quinn’s class (I think): three kids who came to be the ruin of my entire sixth grade year, asked me if I wanted to join their club. I was skeptical but thought maybe they were being nice. I went back and forth in my mind, smiled, but said I didn’t know. I didn’t trust them enough to commit.
And I was thankful a short while later, when I found out the club was People Against Ashley Roper. I don’t think it was an actual thing, with actual members. It was just a few mean kids with nothing better to do than pick on me. I’m certain they’re all lovely, mature, humans today, though.
That absolutely affirmed to me that I would not, should not, look too excited or hopeful when some carrot was dangled in front of me. I’d just end up looking like an idiot. I was going to be too smart for that.
That idea carried into all the areas of life where opportunities could present themselves: job interviews, contests, awards; anywhere I could be recognized for something, win something, be invited somewhere, receive a gift – I took on a low key approach. Don’t look too excited and for heavens sake don’t actually say or imply you want the thing. It was just a way to protect myself from looking foolish, even if I still felt foolish.
It seemed stupid to get my hopes up for something just have them crash later.
I first recognized it as a problematic way of thinking about 16 years ago, when I had a miscarriage. It’s ridiculous, I know, but I actually felt stupid for getting my hopes up for this baby, only to have the pregnancy end. This is not a thing to feel stupid about, but it inhibited my ability to grieve because I was talking myself out of it being a big deal. I was alone throughout most of the day it happened, which only increased my need to “buck up, buttercup.” If it’s not a big deal to others, it’s not going to be a big deal to me, either.
Still, other women knew it was a real loss and were there to help me process. Except I wasn’t processing. I felt pressured both not to feel and to feel. I don’t know about you, but I don’t respond well to pressure. Nothing shuts me down like pressure to be or to feel a certain way.
Eventually I did allow myself to feel the loss and the grief, but it took a few months – years, really.
I say all this to say that I know sometimes hope feels foolish. When we experience disappointments or heartbreak over dashed hopes, desires and expectations, it’s easy to let our hope muscles atrophy. But, we are made for hope and to look for better days and fulfilled desires.
There are no guarantees in life. We really can’t always get what we want. But I believe the deepest needs and desires of our hearts can be met. One of the things I’ve been learning over the past few years, through trial and suffering, is that our hope can’t be placed in circumstances, ultimately.
Our hope has to come to rest in God. In Christ. We shouldn’t give up praying and asking for the the things we want. We should continue to turn our attention toward Jesus, to know Him in our suffering and longing. The hard thing to accept is that pain is a part of the human experience, right alongside joy. Our culture, in particular, is very uncomfortable with that. We feel we ought to be immune.
But we aren’t immune. One of the greatest things for us to do is to connect with other people when we are suffering. I believe it is a God ordained prescription for getting through life – shared joy and shared pain. Deep, real, friendship can heal our hearts.
We need to let people in to those places and we need to get really good at sitting with one another’s pain without trying to fix it, one up their troubles with our own, or apply a quick band aid bible verse before we run off to something more comfortable.
It’s when we hide our hurts or hopes or fears that we’re most open to being overcome by the pain. Relationships are essential. It’s not easy, but let’s not hide. We need each other.
It’s really a return to innocence, to the untainted heart of childhood, where joy, pain and hope all roam free.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:9-10, 12, 15 ESV