The Agony of Hope

Hope is such a peculiar thing. At times it is a source of life. Something like a wind that stirs stagnant water. It moves us, filling us with visions of what could be. Hope has the power to stimulate our souls and carry us through nightmares.

And yet at times hope becomes a poison. A source of pain. A thing that results in agony. For when we hope, we allow our hearts to paint the future the way we desire it. We dream in the brightest, most brilliant colors. We create a portrait of the life we long for. But when we step back to admire our work, we are often forced to watch as reality paints over our dreams, creating a completely different story. When this happens time after time, we learn from our pain. We grow more reluctant to raise our brushes. We turn our eyes away from the blank canvas… hope becomes a source of sorrow not of life.

Hope Beyond the Unknown

How many months do you have to read “negative” on a pregnancy test before you no longer hum lullabies in your dreams – How often does trust have to be broken before a love story is firmly shut and set on the shelf? How many times does your world have to shatter after receiving test results before you cease to dream beyond today.

For many, hope is not life-giving but rather life-taking. Hope is one burst bubble after another. When this happens, the question becomes how do I keep on? Do I blindly continue to hope? Continue to chase dreams that never seem to come true? Do I persist in inviting pain into my life? Or do I give up? Do I accept that beauty is not for me…wholeness is not for me. Because certainties–even ugly certainties are often more tolerable than ambiguity. They create a clean wound. Easier to heal from.


I remember coming to this point during my time with Colette. In January 2019, Colette had already been through six rounds of chemo, six weeks of radiation, multiple brain surgeries and one relapse. However, she was, for the time, in remission. There was no sign of cancer, and the current plan was to monitor for tumor return every two months with an MRI scan. By this point, my heart had been through the ups and downs of hope and despair more than I can recount. It was during this time I wrote the following in my journal:

“These past couple of days I have felt myself starting to hope again. Tears come to my eyes as I write this because it hurts so badly. It is so terrifying to let the thoughts begin to grow… but what if? What if she lives? Is it wrong for me to fear hoping? Because oh, I want to shield my heart, to build such a thick fortress around it so that no flood of sorrow can overwhelm it. I shrink from hope, and yet I question is that wrong?”

Two Paths?

I remember pausing after writing this… trying to wrap my mind around this question. Was the choice to hope and open my heart to agony versus to refuse to hope and protect my heart from possible pain. Was this really the only two paths offered to me?

Gradually I began to catch a glimpse of a third option… a third path. I then wrote:

“The answer has come to me, I believe God does not command us to hope in a particular outcome; He commands us to hope in Him. To trust Him…”

What is the Object of Our Hope?

You see, to hope or not to hope is not the question. The question is what is the object of your hope. Hoping in a specific outcome – hoping that this or that will occur (that he will change, that the test will be clear, that the opportunity will present itself) – these are hopes that will sting. Hopes that will take, not give joy.

However, hope in God… hope in His sovereign rule over your future. This is a hope that gives life. That brings joy. That is unshakeable. Hope in God acknowledges that He stands before the blank canvas of your future painting with the colors He deems best, shading each figure with His love, and arranging the picture according to His perfect wisdom – Hope in God knows that dark colors enhance the light ones…knows that the shadows are merely a part of a fuller picture that will be richer and more magnificent than you can imagine – Hope in God is the hope that breathes life into stagnation.

We don’t need to choose between hope or despair. We need to choose between hoping in our definition of good or hoping in His. Place your hope in Him. In His power to rule, in His wisdom to guide, in His goodness to preserve. Set your eyes on the Artist not the canvas and hope. Hope in Him.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  Ps. 42:11