The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. ~ Barbara Kingsolver

Years ago, a friend asked, “Ronna, given all that is happening in your world – all the heartache, all the struggle, all the pain – why do you think that you continue to hope; that you even can?” My response: “I don’t know how not to.” Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary – whether related to infertility, marriage, divorce, job loss, grief, and even day-to-day anxieties – somehow (though often deeply buried) hope remained. It still does.

I don’t know how not to hope.

 

I say none of this as evidence of my strength, capacity, or character; rather, because I see and experience hope as almost-irrefutable law – like gravity.

Has it gotten me into trouble? Yes. Has it caused me to sometimes remain in circumstances, situations, jobs, or relationships that should have been severed far sooner? Indeed. Has it, at times, painted a lens over my world that has been less than honest, less than objective, less than accurate? Sadly, this too.

The obvious question then, is how to draw the line between hope that’s tenacious and enduring vs. foolish and naive; between that which is fantasy and reality; between holding on and letting go. Is there a tipping point; a point of no return? Is it possible to hope too much? 

I suppose. But what is the alternative?

Hope’s antonyms are despair, disbelief, discouragement, hopelessness, and pessimism. And these, to me, do not feel like they are on a sliding scale. They burrow in and bear down and sometimes even break us. More, they fly in the face of who we most truly are: buoyant and inspired and alive; able to endure all that threatens – in body, mind, and spirit – and still rise up; pressing on in the face of the greatest odds, the biggest challenges, the most profound loss.

So how do we get more of it?

We don’t. The harder we work to capture it, the more it eludes us. The more we wrestle to pin it down, the more it slips away. In that way, it’s like love: all our striving rarely meets with success. Instead, like most things of ultimate and undeniable value. it just arrives, appears, surprises, and when real and true, stays.

What if we understood hope not as a skill to build, but as a gift that’s ever-given? Not as a trait to procure or develop, but as a presence that remains? Not as something to hold on to, but something that holds on to us?

 

Allow for hope as an entity that surrounds, supports, and sustains and you will find its supply unceasing. Invite it in, give it a key and a room and a chair and the warmest of welcomes. Then let it redecorate. Let it soak into every pore, every nook and cranny, every empty space within you, like the best of wines or finest of fragrances. And trust that it will stay.

Just like Gravity. Just like Grace. Just like God.

Hope is…

…the singular gift / we cannot destroy in ourselves, / the argument that refutes death, / the genius that invents the future, / all we know of God. ~ Lisel Mueller

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There is a skeptic within me that sneers, telling me all of this is folderol and fiddle-dee-dee; foolishness, really. That no matter what I invite or intend, disappointment and frustration and even disbelief show up and shove hope right out the door. Believe me, I’ve lived in that achy, desolate place, too. And though I’ve spoken of hope as gift – nothing to work for – this is where the work lies: quiet those lying voices – the ones that hiss and whine and prod and poke; that set up camp and seem to take you captive. Silence them as you can. And in the meantime? Oh, that there were some secret I could give you; some magic formula I could decant and sell. Instead, just this. Wait. Eventually and inevitably hope will reappear. “Patience, dear heart,” it seems to whisper. “Let go. Breathe deep. I am here.”

You won’t be disappointed, I promise.