When Hope Hurts

“‘For a while’ is a phrase whose length can't be measured.

At least by the person who's waiting.” -Haruki Murakami

With the Advent season upon us, there is no shortage of thoughts and reflections on the necessity and beauty of waiting. And many of them have great value and wisdom, so do not read this as in any way an argument against their merit. However, as I was recently considering the theme of “waiting”, I could not help but recognize that sometimes it is not the best choice we can make.

One of the difficult truths I learned as I entered midlife was that our hopes and dreams don’t just “happen to us”. That might seem obvious- and on some level it is. However, too many of us live our lives, imagining a future when things will “be better”, where we’ll be past the worst of our fear and pain, and living into the best life we have imagined for ourselves.

The problem is that we are also prone to live under the conviction- whether conscious or not- that some thing or things will just happen at some point that will make those changes possible. And so we live our lives waiting for those moments. For a small few, it might happen, like winners of some random, cosmic lottery. For the rest of us, however, we can find ourselves waiting our lives away. As Voltaire said so poignantly: “We never live; we are always in the expectation of living”.

The hardest for me is my tendency to hold space for people who I hope will truly and fully accept me for who I am as a queer man. I end up holding space for them in the slim chance that the seemingly impossible will happen. And I have been conditioned to have hope, to extend grace, to be “long-suffering”. After all, “they that wait upon the LORD will renew their strength”, right?

While there can be merit in those postures, sometimes they simply become a way of perpetuating trauma, freezing in a place of pain. Instead, I am learning to let go, which carries its own kind of pain, as though I am letting them off too easy, vindicating their self-righteous refusal to acknowledge the harm that they’ve done. So instead of hope, I turn to bitterness. Yet this too fails me, simply grinding ink into the open wounds they have inflicted, tattooing the evidence their harm all the more deeply.

And so, I am left with forgiveness. I choose to forgive them. Not as absolution but as release. Not as justification or out of obligation but for liberation- my liberation because the hate and hurt, and sometimes even the hope, only harm me. And it is true for us all It’s not that we abandon all hope that change is possible but instead release the expectation that such change is ours to make happen.

It is only when we begin to be free from the bondage of our own expectations, false hopes, and guilt-fed obligations that we can learn to make the choices that bring us life, that we can simply discover and learn to be our truest selves. And we are free to only make those choices we are able and leave the rest, with hope, in the hands of God. And that, perhaps, is the right kind of hope.

“We should, at all times, insist that we belong to ourselves and have the agency to make decisions about our own lives. Our voices, whether loud or soft, matter. Our behaviour, whether seen as 'good' or 'bad', remains our choice.” -Malebo Sephodi

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