I am a recent college graduate, unemployed for five months, living in my parents’ house and watching as my hopes for graduate school disappear as the letters come back. I’ve lived through several tragedies in the past several years — murder, abuse, relationships broken up. I feel as if I am suspended in motion, watching my friends get married, have kids and buy houses – and I wish they had what they have. How do I have hope in the Lord when I am continually disappointed with what happens in my life? Is it wrong to want to be happy?
Afraid to hope
Dear Afraid to hope,
Every time I read your letter, I start to think. I think about you, writing away at your computer somewhere. I think about the way you crafted your story, your question, and what you might have been doing while you wrote it. I think about how courageous you are to write it down at all, because writing makes things a different kind of real. I think about whether you’d drink a latte or something without caffeine in it, if we went out to coffee together.
And your question? There is no pithy quote on this wide and wildly beautiful world that would capture an answer to it. Because you want to know about a living thing – hope – and living things are never as simple as those handpainted lettered signs on the Pinterest page. You want to know about a thing that moves with us, that spills over into the most surprising corners, that feels at once impossible and utterly, undeniably, real.
After I read your question the first few times, I did yoga. I am not great at yoga, so I picked the “easy yoga for beginners” (because that can’t be that hard, right?) on amazon and I started. The first thing we did was lie down. I almost turned the video off and muttered something dismissive about the idea that lying down is a kind of exercise, but for some reason I stayed. I closed my eyes, the way the all-too-peaceful instructor told me to. I willed myself to be calm. That hardly ever works for me, because my heart starts racing and I think of my to-do lists and then before I know it I’m already missing half the warrior pose.
But that too peaceful instructor, she said something that made its way into the maze of my racing heart and mind. She asked, “Where is your body right now? Honor what your body is telling you. Honor what your body can do today.”
I think there is this part of us all that secretly believes everything important happens in our heads. The disappointments and the hurts and the joys and the wondering, that’s all work internal, in that life of the mind, in that wild wandering heart space. And we think that space is, must be, infinite, able to do whatever we tell it to. We think we can think our way or feel our way or demand our way into hope or faith or love. We think we can order the heart space around, tell it to expand, tell it to get wiser – tell it to memorize Pinterest quotes – tell it to have hope in the Lord.
And that’s where I think we go wrong.
We are just one: body and heart and mind all tangled together. We can no more say to our minds or hearts that we can be more hopeful or less disappointed than we can tell our bodies to sink deeper into Warrior II or arch our backs higher in Cobra. “Honor what your body can do today.”
You have to start testing the edges of your hope. You have to get real with God and with yourself and ask, “Where are you today, body and heart and mind? Where are we with this lived thing, hope?” And sink a little deeper, and honor where you are today. Explore it. Ask God all the things you think you can’t ask because you think if you ask you won’t get closer to hope. I mean the gritty questions: I mean the “Why is this happening to me?” and the “Wasn’t I faithful to you?” and the often-lurking-for-me-anyway “Do you love me? How can you love me when this is what I see?”
Afraid to hope, I am here to tell you hope is hard won, body and spirit jumbled together. It is a tested thing, it is a thing that lives. And this is the greatest gift to us. Because it means that when we honor where we are today, we inch towards more strength tomorrow. When we honor the conversation we are really having with God today, we move towards a new conversation tomorrow.
It isn’t wrong to want to be happy, by the way, but I don’t think what you’re after here is an answer to that. I think you’re after the bigger thing – the hope, the hope that is beyond the optimism we associate with happiness, or with achieving the things we want. You want the bigger thing, the hope. I love that about your letter. I love that you ask such a big question. How courageous you are.
So now, I will ask you to be courageous again: go forward, body, mind, heart as one, and test the edges of your hope. Bang down the door to God, be loud, ask yourself where you are today. Sink a little deeper into the stretch of hope, the stretch of this wild thing that is you and God. Tomorrow, I promise you, hope grows.