Hope.
It is the best of feelings,
It is the worst of feelings.
(And yes, I think ‘ol Charles Dickens would totally agree.)

Hope can be the only light to get you through an incredibly dark situation.
It can be the one thing that keeps you hanging onto a lifeline in seemingly impossible circumstances.
It can be the tiny warm spark that keeps your dwindling light from being extinguished.
When life comes crashing down…we–as humans–are wired to hope for something better. Having that belief that something better could possibly happen, is to have hope.

It helps us see potential beauty where there is currently none.
It enables us to move forward in anticipation of a better situation than the one we are in at the time.
It gives us courage to keep trying because we know there is a possibility of success

Hope can make us strong, help us persevere and bring us joy. Even the bible tells us that, until the day when we’re finally standing next to God, it’s one of the three most important things we can have in this world (1 Corinthians 13:13). Hope is good. It is so so good.

Hope, the expectation of something good coming, is even more beautiful when that expectation becomes a reality. When a hope is realized, no matter how big or small, there is something that happens in a heart that is almost indescribable. It’s like a missing piece of a huge vase is finally snapped into place and whatever has been slowly trickling (or pouring) out is stopped and suddenly, finally, you have the capacity to be full and whole again.

But, there is another side of hope.

It’s the side we experience when an expectation simply dies.
When we face a reality that is not at all what we hoped for.
When what we so desperately wanted is no longer a remote possibility.
When we have to face the realization that the success of a particular dream has simply not happened, and never will.

Depending on what that particular hope was, the failure of it can be the most devastating and crushing feeling in the world. The weight on our chests of a failed hope makes it hard to breathe, hard to stand, hard to keep going.

When God’s answer isn’t, “Wait.”, or “Maybe later.“….but a quiet firm, “No.“, it can feel like the most severe punishment in the world. It can make us question our desires and doubt everything we have worked for. It can bring us to the point where we know we will never, ever, ever try something again.

You see, when we experience the soul-crushing that can come along with a dashed hope, we often make a seemingly wise choice: to not put ourselves in that precarious position again. If we don’t allow hope to wrap a delicate tendril around our situation, then we don’t risk ripping it into shreds when that situation explodes around us. No hope at all has to feel better than pulverized hope, right?

The simple answer? Sometimes yes. And sometimes no. If I’ve been in a particular situation dozens upon dozens of times…and each time it’s ended in the exact way I hoped it wouldn’t….it might seem better to stop hoping for a different outcome and consistently getting my heart crushed. Truthfully, it would probably be even better to stop putting myself in that same situation and make some different plans..but, if that’s not possible, I think it sometimes is better to accept reality and stop hoping it will be different. For instance, if every single time I present an idea to my boss (feel free to substitute spouse, parent, friend or whatever here) I KNOW that she will make a snide comment and then later claim it as her own brilliant idea…if I KNOW it will happen because it’s happened a bazillion times before even though I’ve talked to her about it…then I might as well stop hoping she will respond with respect and subsequently getting my feelings hurt. Since I can’t avoid this person, it would help me to just go into the situation knowing what’s going to happen, and possibly even finding some morbid amusement over it. Here, suppressed hope is probably best. Then, if there is another outcome…I’ll happily take the surprise.

Other times I don’t think we’re supposed to deny ourselves hope, however scared we are of the outcome. After all, it’s the idea of hope that allows us to forgive someone for the 77th time and let them try to make things right again. ┬áIt let’s us keep trying to make something better that’s been so difficult….because we see a possibility of a improvement. It’s what makes a kid ask EVERY SINGLE NIGHT OF THEIR EVER-LOVING LIVES if they can have dessert before dinner…because there is a super slim possibility of a “yes”.

Sometimes we should accept a situation for what it is and stop adding hope to an equation that always results in hurt. Other times we should do everything we can to fan the little flame of it because we truly believe it’s possible. The hardest part sometimes, is knowing the difference. So how do we?

Well, we ask.
We pray and ask the One who knows what the future holds if it’s time to give into acceptance or to keep fighting the fight. Believe me…God is well aware of what a powerful emotion hope is. In fact, the bible tells us,

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
(Proverbs 13:12)

God knows how crushing a denied hope can be…how sick it can make our very heart. But, He also knows that our very soul can draw strength and life from prayers and hopes that are answered in the way we dream about. When we don’t feel released from something…when we feel compelled to keep praying for a certain outcome, when we feel drawn to hope for something that seems impossible to the world…that just may be the Holy Spirit stirring up those embers to make sure our fire doesn’t die out. Sometimes, having the strength to keep hoping can only be done by believing that God is way bigger than the circumstances. At the same time, having the strength to gently lay that hope aside and accept what life has dealt you can only be done by believing in God’s promise that He only wants the best for you…that He has something better in store for you than what you were hoping for in the first place.

And that’s an answer in itself now, isn’t it? When you do experience the devastation that comes with a deferred hope (because if you live long enough…..you certainly will!), truly believing that God has a better path in store for you just may be enough to keep a tiny sliver of that emotion alive–even if it’s hidden underneath a whole lot of ugly debris.

So I guess I need to amend my original statement a bit.
Hope realized is an amazing feeling.
Hope denied is an awful feeling.
But hope itself is simply necessary. It keeps us living, keeps us trying, keeps us going.
And one day, one beautiful day, it just might get us dessert before dinner.

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