Got hope?

That was the slogan on a t-shirt I saw in the airport last week. It looked like part of the now ubiquitous “Got milk?” campaign. When the young woman got closer, I could read that it was actually an Obama for President campaign t-shirt.

Later that same day, I was talking to a new friend, my hostess for the evening, about hope. She said she’d been thinking about hope a lot lately, partly because of the presidential campaign and partly because of difficult situations in her life. She reminded me that in the Greek myth of the box that Pandora opened, releasing all the misfortunes of humanity into the world, hope was one of them. Maybe that was how the ancient Greeks saw life, I replied, because they believed that the Fates were in charge of our lives, so there was no point in hoping for anything better. I pointed out that there were other ancient teachings we could look to, like faith, hope and love being God’s greatest gifts.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since. I know there are Christians who believe in predestination and God’s personal plan for your life. But I don’t. I believe that we constantly make decisions, large and small, and then we learn to live with the consequences,. We live with our own consequences and the consequences of decisions that other humans have been making for thousands of years, from the first man to hoard food to Mohandas K. Gandhi to our current government representatives. I believe that the Divine Interpreter helps us to find meaning in what happens, not that God plots our lives’ joys and sorrows according to some greater plan.

This week, I’ve had further opportunity to reflect on the negative side of hope – the side of disappointment, when a job I really wanted for a long time, felt really called to, went to someone else. It has been painful. I understand more clearly how hope could be seen as a negative thing. If I hadn’t held so much hope, maybe I wouldn’t have been so hurt when it didn’t turn out the way I wanted. Maybe I should practice more detachment. There’s another ancient teaching to consider.

But it’s not my natural state of mind. It’s certainly not what I learned at home. My father is a nearly pathological optimist. He doesn’t admit to risks or possibilities of failure. He doesn’t want to think or plan for “what if it doesn’t work?” scenarios, because, he says, they just distract you from focusing on how to make it work, whatever “it” is. I’m not that bad; I did acknowledge, out loud, all along that I might not get this job. But I didn’t rehearse how to tell all my friends that I didn’t get the job either.

How do we as Friends support one another through our periods of hope and our periods of disappointment? While my family and friends have been hugely supportive (and patient with me), what I keep coming back to is that hope and faith and love are indeed gifts of God. Even when circumstances are much worse than my current situation, the Divine Interpreter can also be the Holy Comforter. I know that in one of my darker hours a few years ago, Jesus came to me, with his arms of comfort and hope. I haven’t had any thing quite so vivid this week, even though the pain is more dramatic and personal this time. Nonetheless, my theme song for the next week is “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, Leaning on the everlasting arms.

(Hoffman/Showalter, Public Domain, p. 1887. I recommend the Iris DeMent recording, on her 2004 album Lifeline.)

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Blogger anj said...

Robin - I have been thinking a lot about hope lately too. I remember my counselor about 11 years ago quoting a portion of Proverbs 13 to me: Hope deferred makes the heart sick,But desire fulfilled is a tree of life. I wonder if hope would be part of the knowledge received in the story of the Garden and eating the apple. Hope as a gift makes sense to me right now. Finding meaning in the life that is happening is another aspect that makes sense. My husband is the first optimist I have ever lived with; his willingness to live with hope has started a lot of my pondering. Your words have added to the mix. If hope is a gift, then doesn't it matter if we choose to receive it? I'm sorry this job did not come through. Your words in the prior post of seeking paid work that you respect that respects you hold much meaning too. How do we support each other in disappointment and loss? In life and hope? Today I will be humming the words of the song you have quoted. Maybe that is a good start for me.

5/08/2008 9:13 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Anj, one of the healing ideas that keeps occurring to me is that I have to keep in perspective the magnitude of my current disappointment. Yes, I don't know when I wanted something so badly, for so long, that seemed so right, that didn't come true, and it's okay to take some time to mourn that, but really, I haven't lost much. I learned a lot and I made some new friends in the process. Compared to many people, my life is still pretty good. Or maybe I should say, my life is still pretty easy. One of the things I am learning this year is that sometimes it is the people we depend on that disappoint us. I think that's not a new one for you. I'm glad my words were useful and not just adding to the pain in the world.

5/09/2008 11:52 AM  
Blogger Gil S said...

Thanks for this Robin. Forgive me if I wear my pedant's hat for a bit but I think that when Pandora let all the evils into the world it was hope that was left in the box. I don't know if that makes a difference for you.

I am naturally a pessimist,always waiting for the big foot in the sky to come down and crush me[as in the Monty Python titles]. There have been a couple of times in my life, mainly connected with jobs, when I have hoped for something and been really disappointed when it didn't happen - going right back into self-hating pessimist mode. But later, looking back, I have seen these experiences as preparation for the times when things did go right and something better came along.

Many years ago in meeting I was given three messages and it was clear to me that these words were for me to ponder and not to share in spoken ministry.I have kept them by me and I find that together they really help. Perhaps they may do the same for you.

The messages were first "Count your blessings", second "A way will open" and third "My time is not your time".

5/09/2008 6:52 PM  
Blogger Shawna Roberts said...

"I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing."
--T.S. Eliot
East Coker

I remember once in meeting, I was heartbroken with sorrow over something that I couldn't have, and I was praying to God about it..."Why can't I have it? Why? Please please give it to me..." And in the middle of my heartbreak, my 5 yr old tugged at my arm, in tears. "Daddy won't give me my bag of toys," he whispered. And I knew that Daddy had a good reason for not giving over this particular bag full of noisy toys, so I smiled and whispered back, "Don't worry. He'll give it to you after meeting. Just wait. It will be ok." And I suddenly felt God tapping my shoulder and smiling at me.... and I had to smile... OK, Abba. You have Your good reasons. I will wait for this particular bag of noisy toys. How long will meeting be?

5/11/2008 1:04 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The version of Pandora's story that I read first had a different spin: that after all the misfortunes came out of the box, she looked in and there was Hope, which hadn't flown out of the box. And that was a compensation, or balance, for letting everything else out. There's probably something in the fact that hope didn't fly away, but was right there for the taking, as well.
I think this is connected to how it is difficult to experience extreme joy without being open to extreme sorrow; I wrapped myself up in a cocoon for several years in which both extremes were dulled, and it was painful to break free but definitely worth it.

Now, I'm not saying this is the Greek way of thinking about the myth. I think I read my version in the 1924 World Book Encyclopedia, so it would reflect a 20th century American view.

5/19/2008 1:14 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I just wonder, why was hope in the same box with all the other misfortunes? I don't know enough about ancient Greek culture to understand the deeper meanings of the myth.

5/19/2008 2:40 PM  

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