By Betty J.B. Brouwer
Hope: such a little word, but if weighted with expectation,
it reduces the experience of being accepted.
– Kim Golding & Alexia Jones
I have always attached positive attributes to hope, seeing it as an invitation to expansive potential. But the quote above caught my attention. It cautioned me to consider a different perspective of hope and invited me to examine the hope I have and offer.
Hope is a small word that gets tossed about, almost carelessly. In conversations it is common to hear people casually refer to hope: ‘I hope tomorrow will be a sunny day.’ ‘I hope to spend the morning cleaning my house.’ ‘I hope I win the lottery.’ In all of these statements, hope is alluded to merely as a passing fancy or a probable likelihood within the realm of our control. But that does not seem to fully capture the power and essence of this little word. Hope is much more than just a passing desire or intention.
Hope is present when I am not sure of the end result or even the steps to get there. If I can do it then I am I really hoping? If I say I hope to clean my bathroom today when I know I can, then it is not really about hoping. Yet hope does involve action. Without action it would simply remain a fleeting sentiment. Hope is often reduced and trivialized, and in the reduction, we lose its power. We miss its invitation.
To have hope is to long for something that is not yet, to catch a glimpse of what can be. It involves a desire and a trust that compels one to move forward. It taps into a knowledge that things are not as they should be; they are not just. Embedded in hope is a sense of longing, a longing for something more. Hope is critical and emblematic of things not being as they should be, and hope provides a way to move forward.
But – and here is the part that matters, hope has to be an invitation, full stop. Without any demands, conditions or requirements. An invitation rooted in love.
Expectations cripple hope and render it ineffective, particularly when those expectations are imposed on another. To hope for an open dialogue but give the implicit expectation that no one is to be angry or upset during that dialogue is to cover that hope with impossible or unfair conditions. The word hope can sometimes be employed to convey underlying expectations or demands. When that happens, hope fails to be genuine and, as the opening quote says, “reduces the experience of being accepted.”
In my work as a psychotherapist I am at times a holder of hope when it is too painful or difficult for my clients to imagine the possibilities that hope can offer. But if I insist that my clients have that hope, I am not accepting them and their experience. The danger is that hope becomes concealed and covered with an expectation. It becomes conditional and growth is thwarted.
Hope is not dependent on having it all together. Hope extends and is not restricted to individual capacity. Hope involves a realization that my own merit and power is not enough. It is something more than self. If hope and its pursuant results were to rest solely in my hands or my power, it would not be sure of fulfillment. Hope invites me to let go of my need for power and control.
Hope involves an awareness of injustice and brokenness; a longing and an invitation.
Hope. It is a little word, a powerful word, an expansive word that provides a portal for possibilities, alternatives, repair, and growth.
Betty J.B. Brouwer is Shalem’s Director of the Linking Lives/Building Attachment program and the Artistic Director of Shalem’s RE-create Outreach Art Studio.
The opening quote is from an upcoming book, A Tiny Spark, by Kim Golding and Alexia Jones, Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Photo of hands holding hope stone by Betty J.B. Brouwer.