(California, March 2007)
Years ago, Laura recommended The Allure of Hope by Jan Meyers to me. I finally read it this month. The book is a summary of many things that have been percolating in me for a long time. I knew I was in for it on page 19, when, to my embarrassment, this passage made me start crying in the middle of a Schlotzsky's:
As I've spoken to countless women, I've been struck with the words they come up with when asked to think of hope: anticipation, renewal, expectation, motivation, trust, promise, excitement. Frankly, we are cowards. Are those descriptions of hope? Absolutely, those are threads within hope's fabric. But words like groaning, yearning, birth pain, anguish, doubt, and struggle don't immediately come to mind. Why?... These realities are intrinsic to the nature of hope and woven into the fabric of our souls as women. Hope cannot be separated from its gut realities. We think of hope as something "out there" that we either find or lose. The reality is, hope is something that rises up inside of us with a gentle strength that requires a response. We either respond to it with our hearts or we try to push it down. Responding to it brings a deepened sense of thirst, a deepened ache. Responding to it reminds us of what it truly means to be a woman. Trying to push it down is another story altogether. Notice I said "trying" to push it down. Hope is tenacious. Hope always finds us again.We live in a world that equates "realism" with maturity. It's assumed that once we experience real trials and disappointments, we'll lower our expectations about life. This is true to a degree even among Christians. The revolutionary message of this book is that hope with our eyes open is the most affirming way to approach life. We are to hope knowing that we'll sometimes be disappointed, and may not ever have what we hope for.
Hoping God's way means neither ignoring our desires and trying to "be content" in our circumstances (as so many of us were taught), nor "clamoring" to fix things and make things happen on our own. It means acknowledging our hopes, and bringing them to God, over and over - and allowing Him to work in our hearts through our disappointment. It isn't an easy or happy process, and it's not supposed to be. But it makes us more beautiful and alive. It gives us compassion and vision. It brings us closer to God and to His work in and around us. Regardless of what comes of them, we don't need to smother our hopes. In fact, we need to hope bigger.
Like most people, I'm well acquainted with disappointment. I have important hopes that I'm aware may never be fulfilled. I constantly cycle through the three approaches that Meyers describes - "hovering," "clamoring," and real hope. When my hopes are dashed, it hurts, and I feel like I only have myself to blame for that pain. If I'd lowered my expectations and shut down my heart, I wouldn't have been disillusioned. But no matter how many times it happens, in big or small ways, I seem to keep hoping anyway. I've always been this way, and I've always felt foolish for it. But here's what Meyers says about that:
Hope begins when the memory of what was becomes a longing for what is to be restored. This is the place where contemplating a posture of openness and childlike dreaming seems utterly ridiculous. This is where the journey of the heart can easily be indicted as foolish. And indeed, it is foolish – a foolishness that leads to life. It is the kind of outlandish living that Paul spoke of when he said we are fools for Christ's sake.Toward the end of the book, Meyers interviews a friend who's had some terrible experiences. What she said resonated so strongly with me:
As much as hope relieves the despair, it also really does make the heart sick – when I'm disappointed, when hope isn't realized in the timing I want. If I'm going to be alive and have hope, I'm going to have to grieve my losses and risk being hurt again and again. Because of the way God has a hold on me, I can't stop myself from putting my whole heart into life. A good part of the time this brings happiness, joy, and peace, but it also opens me up to deeper levels of despair… But what He's given me – His love – it makes me unable to resist giving these things away to other people.Obviously, I recommend this book VERY highly. I'm actually restraining myself by not sharing ten more quotes. It might sound too touchy-feely to some, or not grounded enough in Scripture or something, but I believe it rings true.