Hope is a concept that has come up often in my therapy practice.
Some have been on the verge of graduating high school and entering college and like many have received several thumbs up and are still waiting for that cherished letter of acceptance from a few more. Their hope is that they get into the “right” school that has all of the educational and social components desired. In the meantime, anxiety visits daily with the mantra “what if?” chanting repetitiously.
Others have been long-married in admittedly dysfunctional relationships. They express frustration and a sense of helplessness with their situations. As we explored options, I asked if those involving the partners’ cooperation were possible to see through to fruition. The response, said with a sense of emotional fatigue, was “I hope so.”
Some are people who are beginning new jobs and are concerned about making the right move. The expression of hope is that everything falls into place without the familiar “other shoe dropping,” as they have experienced many times throughout their lives.
What all of these people have in common is a wish for a specific outcome, a “happily ever after,” even if none of them are programmed to believe in one. Life has told them that they are likely to fall short of their goals. I remind them of the times when the seeds they have planted over the years have indeed come to fruition. Those seeds had to be watered with hope. It’s equivalent to Miracle Grow. I ask them to consider the possibilities rather than the perils. Instead of ‘what if I don’t get into my first-choice school,?’ the question is ‘what if I get into the ideal school to have just the right experiences?’ or ‘what if I find a solution to my unhappy marriage?’ or ‘what if I succeed brilliantly at my new job?’
I am one of those therapists who shares anecdotes from my own life if I perceive it to be helpful. In each case, I related stories about the ways in which anticipation of a satisfying outcome, blended with steps in the right direction yielded something even better than I had thought could occur. I had ended up going to my second choice school and as a result, had experiences that I never would have, had I been accepted at my first choice college. I met dear friends who remain in my life to this day. I have been in unhealthy relationships over the years and it took hope for a more satisfying one, combined with assertiveness born out of a belief that I deserved better to make it so. In my career, I have taken on jobs that I hoped would lend themselves to a gratifying professional life.
What all three of these descriptions have in common is the stated prospect, “This, or something better, for the highest good of all concerned.” It calls to mind the image of a person standing at water’s edge with a fishing pole, casting their line out into the tumbling waves. They may not know what is out there, waiting to bite the hook, but they hope it is something good. There are times when they walk away empty handed and times when they enjoy the bounty. Both experiences can lead them to greater success.
A year and a half ago, a dear friend died of metastatic breast cancer. From the day of discovering the lump in her breast to shortly before she passed, hope was as constant a companion as the disease itself. Without it, she likely would have exited sooner. Her hope was that the arduous treatment would yield a cure. It was what kept her laughing at the absurdity of her situation, as a career nurse who took care of countless people, she was in a position in which she needed the care. As a beautiful woman who loved her breasts, she found that they were now a source of pain and struggle. She nurtured a mentality of aspiration to heal and did all she could to manifest it. In the medical realm, the words, “false hope,” get bandied about. I cringe when I hear it, since I know that regardless of duration of life, there is nothing faux about it. Is a life any less valid if the duration is cut short?
For those with a spiritual practice, hope can be validation of the promises made by the One in whom they believe. It can be tested and sometimes found wanting, but still they persist in seeing the potential and the possibility.
- Hope reflects quality of life, not necessarily the number of days.
- Hope tells us that a brighter future exists over the horizon.
- Hope lets us know that our imagination can be used to create the life of our dreams and desires.
- Hope allows us to re-write the narrative, and exists as the white-out with which we can delete old beliefs.
- Hope is not wishful thinking, magical thinking or ideas of reference.
- Hope, like love, is never wasted.