Hope is a lesson I’m struggling to learn lately. Specifically, there are promises that I think — that I desperately want to believe — are from God, but I’m terrified to hope they’re real. Because what if I let myself believe these promises truly are from God, and then they don’t come to pass? If that happens, I’ve lost not only those particular hopes and dreams but my whole sense of a God who loves me and treats me with kindness and doesn’t play tricks or mind games.
It’s easier not to hope, not to go through the pain of having dreams crushed. There’s not one area of my life that’s lived up to my expectations or hopes or dreams — and most of my life has fallen so far short that it’s like looking at a 14,000-foot-summit while you’re standing at the bottom of a cliff. I suppose that’s true for most people, but I find myself too often in a space of feeling like everything has been futile; whatever I try crashes into nothing; giving in to relentless mediocrity would be better than continuing to hope and be smacked down by life.
I recently read a book chapter that led me to seriously reflect on why I find hope so challenging: “Facing the Enemy: Shame, Brokenness, and Sanctification,” Chapter 2 in The Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allender. He says, “A godly response in the face of abuse is to grieve — for the perpetrator’s sin and for the damage done to our soul; but the natural response is to cower in shame, condemning our own soul for being so foolish as to hope, want, or risk” (p. 29).
Until I read that, I wouldn’t have said I carry shame. I know things that happened to me weren’t my fault and I don’t feel guilty about them.
But I think I was confusing guilt and shame. Guilt stems from what I do or don’t do. Shame speaks to who I am. And as I read Allender’s chapter and all the ways he points out the manifestation of shame in people’s lives, I realized how pervasively the shame runs through me and how damaging it has been to the ways I perceive myself.
There are things I deeply, deeply want in life that I have only recently begun to admit to other people that I want, because I am ashamed that I even have to want them, that they haven’t just fallen into my lap when they seem to come so easily to so many other people. And although I’ve known since I was seven (at least) that I want to be a writer and I’ve told that to everyone I talk to for more than two minutes, I’ve never thrown myself wholeheartedly into my writing.
Why not? Shame. The idea that if I give all of myself to this dream and fail, I have nothing left, but if I hold back part of myself, then when it fails — because it will fail, because my efforts always fail, because shame tells me I always will fail — then at least I didn’t lose everything to it.
But that’s no way to live. It’s the path to relentless mediocrity and futility and failure, and it’s not the way I want to pursue my goals or walk through my days anymore. It’s not the way I am increasingly coming to believe God is calling me to live.
But hope is so, so hard. I often feel like Rufus in those early days, struggling to learn that I can dare to ask for what I need without being kicked or smacked or torn up by other dogs’ teeth. And every time my tentative efforts are met with what feels like divine punishment or silence rather than warm words and kindness and love, I draw inward again and scold myself for hoping. And then I cycle back around to the idea that hope seems to be what, in this season of my life, I am supposed to be learning how to do.