The Fragility of Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers–
That perches in the soul–
And sings the tune without the words–
And never stops–at all–

And sweetest–in the Gale–is heard–
And sore must be the storm–
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm–

I’ve heard it in the chillest land–
And on the strangest Sea–
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb–of Me.

-Emily Dickinson

‘Tis the season of Advent, of waiting, of expectation, of hope. This is a time when hope seems, paradoxically, both to abound and to seem so hard to grasp.

I love this poem by Dickinson because I think she captures this paradox beautifully. Hope is birdlike, described as having feathers, ephemeral, fragile. A storm could–but doesn’t seem to–destroy this fragility, but hope manages to hold on even in the fiercest condition, never demanding, just always existing.

Hope doesn’t demand. We don’t actually have to work for it. It’s always there, always available, simple and steadfast, abiding side-by-side with faith and love.

Waiting and hoping are not natural for me. For example, I’ve been fighting and struggling in my attempt to make a decision about what to do after I finish my Master’s degree. I have myriad options–a long list of schools to which I plan to apply. I also have the option, of course, to wait, to rest, to take time off from school for the first time in years. And even though I know that waiting and resting and seeking God’s will is the right decision, that knowledge has not stopped me from trying so hard to plan and make lists and DECIDE my future. I have been clearly resisting patience and rest in favor of a plan that I cannot grasp yet. I have been tense and frustrated and lost in hopelessness at times because I don’t know what my future looks like. I have a strange peace about knowing I’m supposed to wait, but that peace is often shattered by the voice in my head that’s telling me that I need to know, that I need to decide. In that tension, hope seems to fly away.

And, because I’m fortunate to be an emotional female, when one major thing in my life feels upended, so does everything else. Suddenly, I’m not hopeful about much of anything, and the assaults keep coming:

Sure, it’s Christmas, and you’ve always loved Christmas, but it’s never going to be the same, is it? Your grandmother’s been gone a year now, and Christmas will always be tinged with her loss. 

Yes, your friends and community are wonderful, but you’re always going to leave them and go home alone, aren’t you? You’re always really going to be alone, aren’t you? 

Of course your family loves you, but they don’t care anything about what you care about. Try talking to them about school and the books you love, and just see how much they really don’t care.

Interesting: hopelessness appears in the face of loneliness and overwhelms with the thought of being alone. Damn you, lies. When one comes, they all come, a legion of hope-destroyers. Suddenly, the Christmas lights and cheer seem taunting, and the dark, cold night seems welcoming, and the hope and Truth I celebrate starts to slip away, just when I need it most.

Hopelessness is not something I can actually fight. I can’t work hard and suddenly have hope again. This is when I have to stand still and remember that the fight has already been fought and won. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome. If I grasp and fight and struggle, the little bird flits away. But if I stand still, waiting, holding my hand out, she comes back to rest and delight.

Now is when I need hope more than ever. In 8 days, I’ll be on a plane to Haiti, a trip that I’ve waited a year to take. The darkness I see now is nothing compared to the darkness that I know exists in that country. Haiti is a place for which I have cared and prayed and mourned for two years now, and I will finally experience it. This next week, I will spend with my family, which will hopefully be a restful, peaceful time of preparation for my trip.

And if you’re reading this, if you’ve made it this far in my, once again, lengthy blog, I ask for your prayers: for peace and hope for my team members and myself as we prepare, for unity among the six of us traveling together, for the people of Haiti who’ve experienced so much darkness, and for light and Truth that overwhelms all else in our lives.