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A Vision of Hope for the New Year

A Vision of Hope for the New Year Aayesha Siddiqui

Aayesha Siddiqui

John Cuddeback - published on 01/08/14

To hope is to be vulnerable, but part of living in hope is letting go of past burdens.

This morning Aleteia is very pleased to introduce as a new regular contributor Dr. John Cuddeback, professor of philosophy at Christendom College, member of the Aleteia board of experts, and author of one of the most exciting new blogs on the digital horizon, Bacon from Acorns, devoted to the oft-neglected "philosophy of household." He is also the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. John has a gift for making classical wisdom relevant to all the small, and not so small, details of daily life in the contemporary world. We at Aleteia know you are going to enjoy John’s wisdom, which will be appearing here every other Wednesday.  

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.

I suppose that each of us must ultimately ask this burning question: from what I’ve seen in life, is it reasonable to hope? Here is a question to which it can be profoundly difficult to give an honest answer. But at the end of the day, I think the truest answer — if we have eyes to see and the will to be faithful — is “yes.”

Hilaire Belloc describes the observance of a New Year’s tradition thus:

"On New Year’s Eve, at about quarter to twelve o’clock at night, the master of the house and all that are with him go about from room to room opening every door and window, however cold the weather be, for thus, they say, the old year and its burdens can go out and leave everything new for hope and for the youth of the coming time."

Part of living in hope is letting go of past burdens. Although some suffering is not the result of our own failings, other suffering is. In order to effectively let go of past burdens, we need to learn the difference. And learning the difference, we can seek forgiveness and begin to amend our life where necessary. Then all our burdens can be in some sense released, even if they’re still being endured. And looking to the new year with hope — a hope rooted in clear vision and faithful heart — we can be ready for the ‘youth’ of the coming time.

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