I was in London at the weekend, down in the underground I spotted a poster for a new film (don’t ask me what it was called!!) which had the tag line;
‘it takes courage to hope’
Spot on, I thought, spot on. Had there not been so many people around, I would have taken a picture of it.
I have been wanting to write a blog on hope for a while now, wanting to get back into blogging. Trouble is, I wasn’t sure how to frame it – so – be gentle with me as you read this, I am not sure how it will pan out!
When I first moved to Brum, I realised I still needed quite a bit of help in sorting myself out, and as such was referred to a counsellor at my GP surgery. I remember once saying to her, ‘to be honest, I try not to hope, it’s just too painful,’ to which the response which came was, ‘well, let me know how you get on with that, hope is an intrinsic human activity.’
Hope is something that is important in our role as chaplains to offer to patients and families, though we are always wrestling with what ‘appropriate’ hope is (and we know that that is a loaded thing in itself!) I have also heard so many, many sermons on hope over so many years, but I usually hear a scripture like this quoted:
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him’
I never hear
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
And I find myself wondering why this is. I am not sure a truer phrase has ever been written, and I do believe that part of what I have been wrestling with over the last few years is a sick heart as so many dreams I had hoped for have not been fulfilled.
When I went to South Sudan, I was SO expectant to see this wonderful country continue to develop, so excited to have a generation of children who had never experienced war, and I prayed so much over them in my early days especially that they would never see it. Then December 2013 came, and another generation found themselves fleeing to the bush, many others making that tough journey to refugee camps. When my organisation was struggling so badly and so many people were getting hurt, I kept having hope that things would improve. I returned in January 2014, thinking that things could only improve – how wrong I was. My hope, once again dashed to smithereens.
There is of course the obvious one of not having found anyone mad enough to want to love me forever, or bear his children and attempt to live the crazy family life – the other day someone said to me, ‘you said you are 43? That’s so young to me, there is time for everything yet…’ I wanted to scream and say no, not really, would you want to be a mother to a 16 year old when you are 60? – but it’s so hard for people who have not had to walk this path to understand – and very easy to offer hope, often without realising how painful or exhausting this is!
I remember receiving a birthday card in Tanzania in 2001 which read something along the lines of, ‘may this be the year all your dreams come true.’ I remember getting that, and feeling SO excited that I would meet someone that year, and that life would become more challenging, but also so wonderful learning to be loved. I was 26 on that birthday! Since then, pretty much every birthday since, people have written the same sentiment in my cards, and I have come to hate it. I know that the intention is so good, and mostly it IS a real desire that person holds for me, but I struggle with it, it feels like false hope. This time of year is also hard, so much that is a little tough, Birthday, Christmas, New Year, all times of new beginnings and hopes for new things, and all within 9 days of each other with other hard days coming soon afterwards. I so desperately try not to hope now – I have held hope for other things too, which I know affected my heart, I won’t go into everything, but yes, I know the truth in that proverb and I know the pain that offering hope may bring, I know the truth of the heart getting sick.
Yet, my counsellor was right. Hope IS an intrinsic Human activity. I was talking to a good friend who has walked a different path to me, but still with some very difficult moments where hope has indeed been painful. She wrote in her text, ‘I don’t want to hope too much…..’ to which I responded I totally understood that. Her response was interesting:
‘I was kind of smiling as I wrote that, I thought, Ruth is able to relate to this. But once in a while I also have been thinking it’s a pity I can’t have all the joy beforehand. The joy of hoping. That stage can be nice.’
The problem is, that sometimes I do sense that hope beginning to swell in me, and I push it right down, I know the negative of what it can do. But I also know the joy that I am missing out on in doing so. Yet I also know that this is a necessity at the moment to continue to allow my heart to heal from the battering of the last few years.
There are times that I struggle to offer hope to others, because I also know the intense pain that hope deferred – or totally destroyed – can bring, there are times when I wince at what I hear said to others, all with the right heart. Yet, I also know the importance of offering hope at the right time. Perhaps this awareness is something that is also somehow healthy, because there IS truth in that proverb written so many hundreds of years ago. Who knows! But I keep on pondering and wondering!