Living in hope necessitates an effort toward imagining a better future. It requires our investment in the tangible ways we can make that future happen and the psychological/emotional ways we open ourselves to it as a possibility. It requires imagination that may even seem outside our ability to fathom. If your experiences, perhaps even your entire existence, have revolved around hope being deferred, effort being thwarted, and harm you couldn’t prevent or anticipate, your mind has determined the futility of seeking better. It tells you there is nothing more. Hope is a lie. Hope is a setup. Hope is what you feel before the axe falls, again.
Our brains are built to create thought patterns, and we follow them willingly, most often without realizing the constant loops we’re cycling through. The path of least resistance: whatever you believe reality to be, based on your past experiences and current circumstances. There is virtually no difference between your perspective and what you perceive to be true. This is not truth, but it may as well be, based on the guiding force your thoughts establish. This is where the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” comes into play:
If I am treated as difficult to love and internalize the message of, “I am unlovable,” I will act as an unlovable person. I will push people away or hide from them. I may project a slovenly appearance or take on unhealthy habits to reinforce my lack of value or attractiveness. I will interpret rejection in a glance, a laugh, a whisper, a slow response, a tone of voice, where there is none.
If I think life has bottomed out and there is no hope of it getting any better, why would I invest in a future? Why would I go back to college, join a dance or acting class, get a better job, start/finish that book, sign up for online dating, or pull myself away from YouTube every evening? I am never stretched beyond impulse, always stagnant, and nothing new manifests. There is little opportunity for…opportunity.
If life really is destined to be some horrible, sickening, crapfest of pain and trouble, then why should I even try to believe for the love of my life to materialize? Why should I believe in love, at all? Why shouldn’t I let cynicism reign and hide all the deep, beautiful parts of my soul in the bottom of a forty-ounce? A concealed heart can’t be known.
I have found myself nearly frantic with fear when I am faced with the choice of hope or (insert “more of the same,” whatever that is). Hope requires that I challenge the status quo of my beliefs, about myself, other people, and life. It makes me toss myself back into the ring of devotion to my future and my relationships. It demands that I not give up, whether I’m staring into a black hole of self-doubt, rejection, loss, or promising developments.
In fact, I would say that hope stirs up fear more effectively than anything else in my life.
Hope says, “There’s someone out there who will love you with a passionate, fierce, powerful love that will be like a tsunami, overshadowing the pain of the past.” But this hope raises the questions: “Am I worthy of such love? Am I too broken to attract such love?” It’s much easier to float along in the ease of, “I am so glad to be single; I don’t have to care a wit about what anybody thinks of me. I don’t have to be attractive or smart or interesting or smell nice; I can just be.” (Forget the fallacy of thinking a loving person will demand me to be more than just me).
Hope says, “Your skills and life story are important and were meant to be honed and extended to others. You’re meant for greatness.” By greatness I mean existing wholeheartedly, inhabiting my body and mind and story fully, living in love and for love. This hope raises the questions: “Am I important? What’s so special and great about me? How do I compare? How dare I think I’m amazing?” (No matter the fallacy of thinking there’s an equation for living a life of purpose and having an impact on the world).
Hope says, “You are worth caring for and every investment you make in doing so has an impact that far outweighs the here and now. You are strong enough to do so.” This raises the questions: “Do I have what it takes? Were all the voices speaking worthlessness from my past, correct? What do I base my identity and value on?” (No matter the fact of my (your) survival up until now as proof of my (your) indomitability).
If we are to surmount the obstacles in order to gain sustained, or even frail, wispy, newborn hope, we must face our belief and our unbelief squarely. We must stare at them closely and consider better thoughts. We must intentionally replace the futile patterns with productive ones. We must stop dulling the pain of assumption and embrace the discomfort of engagement in what is, and more importantly, what can be. We must be kind to ourselves, in ways we never have before. We must be our greatest champion and our most vocal ally.
Living hopefully is the truest definition of real life. It is the most vigor that can ever fill our bones. It is the best love we can ever give ourselves. Hope is the most present we can ever be.