Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. This powerful movie line communicates a belief lived out by many people I talk to today. Hope is risky, and to many of us, the possibility of hope leading to disappointment is just too great of a risk. Whether we’re afraid of looking foolish or afraid of the agonizing pain that comes when hope is deferred or downright shattered, we often prefer any other option than hope. But the other options don’t leave us feeling any better. In fact, they end up wreaking more havoc on our lives and our relationships than if we were to just let ourselves hope.
So, what are these options? As far as I can tell, we have three choices when it comes to what we do with our hearts’ desires: we hope that they’re met, we expect them to be met, or we try to stuff them down so deep that maybe no one (not even ourselves) will notice until we’re either pleasantly surprised or only mildly disappointed. It’s important to recognize which choice you take with your desires because it affects how you interact with your world. You can figure out which choice you’re leaning toward by looking at what belief each choice is based on.
Hope is the belief that something good could happen. When we hope for something, we are admitting that we don’t have total control over whether or not it happens. But we’re also admitting that we’d really like it to happen. We’re exposing our desires, and our vulnerability that we’re not in total control over whether or not those desires will be met. That’s what makes hope risky. It exposes the vulnerability of desire.
Expectation is the belief that something good should happen. When we have an expectation that isn’t met, we don’t usually go to vulnerability. Expectation typically leads to anger because, let’s face it, who lives up to our expectations? Expectation is scripting how things should go, but there are very few places in adult relationships where it’s loving to script how someone else should respond. When I expect someone to not disappoint me, I am likely to get angry when they do because they shouldn’t. But we gravitate toward expectation because it gives us a sense of control that hope does not.
Stuffing is the false belief that we can control how impacted we are by deferred hope or dashed expectations. Stuffing is the belief that I can really not care one way or the other, so I won’t be disappointed either way. Stuffing (or numbing) our desires suggests that we can actually turn off desire. It’s the idea that if you do disappoint me, I can just be minimally affected because I worked hard to keep my desire at bay. But turning off desire leads to depression. If not a clinical depression, at least a relational or spiritual one.
We weren’t designed to numb ourselves to life. Nor were we designed to place expectations on others that they were never designed to fulfill (i.e.: living by your script). We were designed to hope and feel the pain of it being deferred because it is the only route to joy and the only way we can keep our hearts open to God. Hope is the only choice that allows our hearts to stay alive, available, and malleable/humble. Hope is the only option that gives us a fighting chance at loving well.