Passive, Boring Hope (Part 2 of 3)

Once we have awakened to the possibility of hope, we immediately encounter the first hurdle of the hopeful life—a hurdle over which we can stumble back into despair and hopelessness…and the hurdle is the nature of hope itself. Because hope has at least two expressions, and in one form it is passive and dull and it doesn’t change anything…

Hope is just wishful thinking, isn’t it?

We hope for a lot of things around my house. My oldest son hopes he can save enough money to buy a Nintendo DS before he’s too old to care. Meanwhile, he consistently succumbs to impulse in the checkout lane, and his piggy bank remains hungry for funds. My younger son hopes (inexplicably) that we will have “buttered pasta” for dinner. Every night. He’s disappointed at least six nights a week. My youngest one, the one with the bright eyes and soft curls and the color pink she calls “mine,” hopes her brothers will see her as an equal. Sometimes they almost do. And my wife hopes I will eventually be a little less introverted. Hope is just wishful thinking, right?

Ironically, when hope is a verb, it’s pretty impotent—it doesn’t change anything. The dictionary defines (verb)hope in this way: “To look forward to with reasonable desire or confidence.” (Verb)hope is all about waiting, anticipating, and being “reasonably confident” we will attain the object of our desire. As it turns out, (verb)hope is a pretty passive phenomenon. We hope the next chapter will bring something new and different, but the next chapter is not going to write itself. Portable video games don’t get purchased until we first master our desire for trinkets. Or we insist on hoping for things that simply aren’t going to be a part of our story—we can tantrum for nightly pasta until we are breathless, but it’s not going to happen. Yet, we write our stories with this kind of  hope, and before long the hope we have so recently discovered becomes a huge disappointment.

But hope is not only a verb.

Hope is also a noun. And (noun)hope can transform everything. When hope is a noun, when it is an experience that possesses us and defines us, it is devastatingly powerful. The dictionary defines (noun)hope as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had and that events will turn out for the best.” [Italics not mine—when the dictionary starts emphasizing words, you know they’re important.] Whereas (verb)hope focuses us on the future, waiting for a desired outcome, (noun)hope becomes transformational right here and now—it’s as if hope reaches backward from the future and begins to transform the present.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Somehow, (noun)hope reaches even further, into our past, assuring us the events that happened there don’t have to remain meaningless, showing us how those broken chapters will become an integral part of the beautiful, redemptive story we are telling with our lives. When it becomes more than just a way of anticipating the future, when it becomes something we possess and it begins to define us as people, hope becomes unhinged from time and starts to change everything: our expectations for the future, the way we relate to the present, and the way we understand the past. It changes all things, because it changes the only thing present in every scene of our story—(noun)hope changes us.

We have a seventy-year-old maple tree in our front yard. It towers over our house, hugging the front of the house and wrapping itself around the side, as well. In the spring, I sit in my reading chair in the upstairs dormer, which is engulfed by the tree, and I feel like I’m in a treehouse with green-life erupting all around me. In the summer, it shades our house from the scalding Midwest sun during the sultriest hours of the day. In the fall, it explodes into oranges and reds, and people stop and stare, and when my kids tell me to hug it and kiss it I’m glad for the excuse. In the winter, it stands sentinel, its dancing shadow making the rare winter sun shimmer on our living room floor, reminding us of life just beneath the surface of winter. I LOVE that tree.

But last spring it bloomed with a bare canopy and holes in the leaves and sickly-looking seedlings. I panicked. (Welcome to my neurosis.) I pounded fertilizer stakes around the drip line, I watered it with Miracle-Gro, and I called in the tree guys. I wanted to scream as the professional looked at it and nonchalantly described the four different bacteria it picked up in the cold-wet spring. And then he told me I would just have to hope it would come back healthy next year. Just hope. Passive, tedious, anxiety-provoking hope.

As the fall approached, and the tree’s pathetic, shriveled leaves began falling to the ground while the school supplies were still smelling fresh and all the other trees were still green, something hit me hard. I realized how much I live my life with (verb)hope. I realized how much energy I invest in hoping life’s myriad outcomes will break my way, while I fret and worry. And of course, this was bigger than the tree. I felt sick about the way I was living my entire story, and I ached to make my hope a noun, something I could embody and be filled by, making me hope-full.

I ached to rewrite the character I was playing in my own story. I wanted that character to change. To trust that he would be okay, regardless of which trees fell, or which basements flooded, or how much the healthcare company slashed his psychotherapy fees, or which child got sick, or who was misunderstanding his heart. I wanted to be the author of a character who didn’t spend his time hoping the future would deliver him from pain and trial and conflict, but a character who could drink down the cup of life to the dregs, entering into all the mess with hopefulness and peace. A character whose hope gave him the strength to enter into the confusion of life and the perseverance to stay there, rather than sitting idly in the waiting room of (verb)hope and yearning for an escape from life’s trials.

I wanted to have the courage I was witnessing every day on the other side of the therapy office. Because my clients teach me about hope, as well. They have taught me that, as hope becomes the pen of our character arc, we discover the earliest chapters of our stories are not something to be disowned, or edited to the cutting room floor. Instead, we begin to recall the hard, early chapters as the setting of a story that is about healing and change, the setting for a really good character arc. The events of the past are no longer a random, cruel chapter of life—they become the backdrop for a life-story that can inspire the uninspirable. (Noun)hope is not a future that we wait for, it is the energy of transformation, right here and now, and it is a lens of grace, through which we can look at the chapters of brokenness we have lived and find meaning there.

In the end, the sickness of my beloved tree was a blessing, because it revealed a sickness in me—the dis-ease of (verb)hope. By the way, the tree bloomed full and green in this warm, early spring. It’s beautiful again. But not as beautiful as this: by the time the leaves popped, it didn’t matter what they looked like. (Noun)hope had bloomed, and the limitations of life and the finitude of all things material had been stripped of some of their power to disappoint and terrorize and defeat.

(Noun)hope changes everything, because it changes us. I wonder if you’re as thirsty as I was for the kind of hope that transforms us into people who not only survive, but thrive, in the midst of life’s pain and suffering. Are you bored by a hope that keeps you stuck and waiting? Are there chapters of your life that need to be redeemed by writing a purpose for them into your story? Do you want to genuinely enjoy the character you are living out in your life-story, a character that is engaging life and hungry for transformation? If so, begin the hunt for (noun)hope today, track it down ruthlessly, and don’t stop until you have captured a hope that transforms, and heals, and redeems. You were made for nothing less.


What’s Your Story: Perhaps you’d like to share about a time when waiting with passive hope left you disappointed, but deciding to change yourself became a hope-full and life-giving endeavor? Please feel free to share your story, or any other thoughts, in the comments. If you are reading this by e-mail or RSS feed, click here to comment.

Note: Next week I will post the final part of this reflection on hope, and I think it will be entitled, “Dangerous Hope.” If you would like to be notified of that post, and future posts, you can subscribe by e-mail in the sidebar. You can also receive notification by joining me on Twitter or Facebook. And, as always, thanks for reading. It’s a gift. 

Note: When I began writing this post, it was a lot less about me and a lot more about the psychotherapeutic endeavor. In the end, I could only ask so much of your attention, so I cut most of the psychotherapy reflection, which was the original inspiration for the post. If you are interested in reading about it, feel free to visit my Facebook page, where I elaborate on how this relates to what happens in the first seven sessions of psychotherapy.

Photo Credit: Taken from the following website:

Check It Out: For a brilliant depiction of (noun)hope in song, check out Alabama Shakes, performing “Hold On,” on Conan O’Brien.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

8 thoughts on “Passive, Boring Hope (Part 2 of 3)

  1. Kelly, this post gave me goosebumps and tears. I read it just after waking up from a 12 hour sleep (I usually sleep 6 – that’s how exhausted I’ve been). I needed to read it.

    I love the italics in the dictionary…things WILL turn out for the best.

    I’m learning more and more that hope and grace and renewal and life are right here, right now, in this moment. I’m learning every day that the dark and the light are here together, and that that the dark itself holds more light than I knew.

    This was a perfect, gentle, grace-filled start to my weekend. Thank you, again.

  2. I’ll never look at your maple tree the same again. 🙂 My favorite part is that hope gives you the strength to enter the confusion of life and the preserverance to stay there….

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