[S]he who has never hoped, can never despair.
–George Bernard Shaw
It seems we can't have one without the other - hope and despair. But truth-be-told, we don't want that package deal. We're afraid to hope precisely because we do not want to know despair, pain, suffering, disappointment. We work to keep our hearts intact and (hopefully) despair-free. This kind of tentative hope though, has profound impact - on our identity, our relationships, and our actions.
Tentative Identity. Have you noticed how much easier it is to name your sins, failings, and deficiencies, than your beauty, talent, and desire. We dare not speak with hope about or for ourselves. It's self-centered and presumptuous, isn't it? So we compromise. We tone ourselves down. We rarely acknowledge our deepest longings because they create potential for disappointment. We can't dare to believe that we can be, offer and do so much more. We still hope, sort-of, but only tentatively.
Tentative Relationship. To give ourselves over to another, no holds barred, we have to risk. And despair's just knocking on our door, isn't it? I have a dear friend who has been deeply disappointed by past relationships. In her 30s and single she longs for a man she can trust, love, and marry. Dating again she recently said, "Ronna, he's almost too good to be true. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I almost can't bear to hope that he's the one." I pray the whole shoe-dropping thing doesn't happen, but her tentative hope and fear of despair may keep her from the amazing, glorious joy of relationship.
This is not unique to single women; married women also know much relational disappointment. Early seasons of hope give way to the reality of day-to-day life. For some, hope has been nearly irreparably damaged through unbearable harm, betrayal, and abuse; for others, despair has come through divorce or death. To continue hoping is difficult. Though our hesitancy may be legitimate, it hardly enables the full, abundant life we desire. We hope, but only tentatively. Anything more feels too risky.
Tentative Action. Tentative hope impacts how we behave, what we're willing to give (up), and all that we do. Consider your work - in church, business, ministry, home. Do you take action, speak boldly, tell the truth? At first blush, these seem like simple, assumed categories, but my experience as a woman (and that of many others) knows these to often be deserts fraught with hidden landmines. To hope that my actions or words will be seen, heard, and have impact vs. being misunderstood or ignored, can feel na?ve and foolish. To name truthfully what I experience as a woman, what I agree (and disagree) with - can feel downright suicidal, and at least impractical and futile. Instead, I make myself less, edit my words, play the game. I hope things will be different, but only tentatively.