To hope is to be vulnerable, but part of living in hope is letting go of past burdens.
As a new year begins, we find ourselves asking what we have to look forward to in this next year. One of the blessings of the natural cycle of seasons and years is this occasion for such reflection on life. Is there a good basis for looking to the future with hope? The answer one gives to this question gives definition to life.
For many of us, it is very hard to hope. Hope looks forward with expectation to the fulfillment of desire. To hope is to be vulnerable. There are few things as difficult to bear as the disappointment of hope. How could I have trusted? How could I have been so silly as to expect something good?
Youth, at least traditionally, is a time characterized by hope. The young have dreams, and they look to the future with the expectation that their dreams will be fulfilled. For the middle aged — and I know this first hand — hope does not come so naturally. Presumably, the vicissitudes of life — and perhaps especially the difficulty of finding relationships that really endure — are a main cause of the diminution of hope with age. It might seem reasonable to conclude that hope is a sign of a lack of the knowledge that comes of experience.
But there is another possibility. Hope requires more vision, not less. We middle-aged and beyond are prone to let our vision be clouded by disappointment. Youth, too, can fall prey to this. But perhaps disappointment can and should bring with it a sharper vision, if only we are willing to really look.
Hope, Josef Pieper pointed out, was not considered one of the virtues by the great ancient philosophers because it is not necessarily good in itself. We can hope for bad things. Sometimes the disappointment of our hopes is a sign that we have hoped wrongly. Surely this is a lesson that must be learned.
But what about the disappointment of hopes that are not wrong — for instance, the hope for a good marriage? Surely, good hopes too are often disappointed. The question is: what do we conclude from this? Do we conclude that to hope is itself futile, making one unnecessarily vulnerable?
The answer to this question is not in a Pollyanna-ish or blind optimism. True hope has nothing in common with blind optimism. And this, again, is because true hope is rooted in vision — a vision that grasps that the past or current disappointment of even my good hopes is not the final word; that grasps that sometimes, the reason my hopes are not fulfilled is that I have not well-disposed myself for their fulfillment; that grasps that sometimes, even if I have done my part well, the fulfillment of my hope will only come later, according to a timing beyond my appreciation.
Such hope requires courage. And love.
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And discernment. If I hope that this year the federal government is going solve our fundamental health care issues, or that my spouse is going to heal all the wounds of my childhood, I have a bit to learn about hope and life. Some hopes are unreasonable precisely because we expect from certain sources what should not be expected from them. We need to learn for what, and from whom, to hope.
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