Over the holidays, the concept of hope spans many situations: children are hoping for presents or snow, parents are hoping to pay all the bills that come later, and religious communities talk about the virtues of this simple word. But what does it actually mean?
Hope is the anticipation of a situation or thing that is ardently desired. Its focus centers on something which has not yet come to pass, with an outcome that isn’t guaranteed. It offers the belief, though, that there is some likelihood (however small) of attaining this sought after goal.
Our hopes tend to follow our struggles, as we yearn to escape past failures or disappointments, and strive towards a brighter future. The joys of this season can buoy our spirits and strengthen our outlook. For those facing loss, separation, or lack, however, it can be a challenge to keep feelings from slipping into despair.
I firmly believe it does. For many of us, the last few weeks have been spent frantically shopping, decorating, entertaining, cooking, wrapping, and celebrating. However, when the holiday finally arrives there is often a moment of pause, for reflecting on what we truly cherish.
This time of year, there are countless reminders to appreciate what you have and to enjoy the here and now. I certainly find value in these practices of gratitude and mindfulness.
Yet I’d like to offer another perspective that has come to mean just as much to me. Sometimes it’s beneficial to move beyond the present moment—to consider what can be gained by looking toward the future with hope.
Sometimes our circumstances are harsh and the road we travel is cast with shadows. I can recall plenty of uncertain, stressful times when I could barely get through each day. Yet hope would always shine a little light ahead of me, encouraging me to keep moving forward, one step at a time.
Hope gives us the strength to endure life’s setbacks. We cling to the belief that these aren’t permanent situations, but rather fleeting experiences which will pass. Sometimes that’s all you have to sustain your momentum so you can reach those better days.
What hopes have kept you going through hard times?
One of the greatest challenges I faced occured during my first pregnancy, when my daughter was diagnosed with spina bifida. Lifelong complications and likely outcomes were thrown at me like baseball stats, and all of my expectations for preparing to be a mother were upended.
What kept me going was the hope that we would still be a family. That even if my daughter never learned to walk (she did) or didn’t go to school (graduated with honors), we would still love each other beyond measure.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
~ Gandalf, LotR
Hope is mainly an internal process. We use our imaginations to create an improved outcome, a better life. By taking the time to develop an idea of what we want—our true heart’s desire—we’re creating a positive outlook for all our tomorrows. This encourages us to move through the difficult circumstances of our lives, taking little steps closer to what we long for.
I have found the act of hoping sparks its own energy, which influences our thoughts and behaviors…and from there our daily lives. Hope connects us to our inner resources so we are able to recognize we’re not helpless or stuck. No matter how desperate things seem, hope lifts us out of despair, even if just in spirit.
How do you experience hope? Where do you feel it in your body?
For me, hope comes as a lightness in my chest, almost as if a bubble of air is lifting me up, creating space for something new. While my doctors were quoting statistics and options, and everyone I knew had a different opinion on what should be done, I turned inward to make the decisions that would shape my daughter’s future.
This time, though, the bubble wasn’t in my chest. I felt it lower, deep in my abdomen. It took a few moments for me to realize that this little flutter of what felt like tiny hummingbird wings was really the first signs of movement from within my womb. Sitting in a doctor’s office, my hands lightly resting on my belly—that’s when I found my confidence that everything would be okay. My hopes and dreams for this beautiful life inside of me became my strength.
Once we allow hope to create the possibility of better times, we become willing to take risks and explore different paths to a brighter tomorrow. Our renewed willpower enables us to keep trying new approaches, always open to what might lead us to our cherished desire.
What new ideas have you discovered after opening yourself up to hope?
Once I started to hope—imagining a life of possibility for my daughter regardless of her disability—I sought out more options in order to give her the best opportunities. When my perinatologist recommended a specialist who had developed a promising new procedure, I made travel plans that same day. This surgery wasn’t without risk, but it offered the best chance of mobility and health for my child. So I found myself on the road to a new city, and another hospital, to learn more about whether it was right for our family.
Our dreams don’t land miraculously in our lap, gift-wrapped with bows and ribbons. Turning them from aspirations to reality usually requires action on our part—choices in our daily lives that add up to measurable change. Hope motivates us to take our next step, however small, towards what we desire.
With the belief that our ideal situation is out there waiting for us, we’re more inclined to start moving in any direction. And that is exactly what increases our chances of finding what we long for. Even if what we discover doesn’t match our expectations, those little actions allow us to leave the gloom of tough times behind us. Once we’ve put ourselves in motion, we’re likely to find something better…or at least a starting point to craft new hopes for our future.
What actions have you taken in anticipation, or hope, of something you desired?
Once kindled, I never stopped hoping to give my daughter a life filled not just with love, but also the opportunity for her to succeed and thrive. This path eventually led to maternal-fetal surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center while only 24 weeks along in my pregnancy.
The procedure showed promise, though at the time it was still experimental. Despite my worries for this precious little girl, I acted on my belief for her best options, and these pioneering physicians (Dr. Joseph Bruner & Dr. Noel Tulipan) turned my hopes into reality. Though my daughter wasn’t born for another three months, the surgeons presented me a photographic keepsake of her first hello to the world.
Between the arrival of Christmas and the anticipation of New Year’s, this week is sure to be filled with activity. Instead of setting aside a longer period of time for contemplation, I’d like to offer the tiniest of actions for this week’s Small Step.
Find a small piece of paper and simply write H-O-P-E in large bold letters. Then post it somewhere central in your home. As you bustle from one celebration to the next, notice this simple word as you pass…each time checking in to assess your perception of hope in that moment.
This doesn’t require more than a few seconds, a mere pause from the outer cultural, religious, or family obligations that vie for your attention. Consider whether your experience fluctuates before, during, or after the celebrations.
If you are familiar with how hope feels in your body, sense those changes. Listen closely to your thoughts and self-talk to observe how you view life’s possibilities. Recognize whether your actions and behaviors are consistent with someone who is open and willing to believe that better things are coming your way.
As this week comes to a close, reflect back on those times that didn’t turn out according to your expectations, as well as any moments of connection, wonder, or awe. Can you see where hope was present in your life?
Are you open to the possibility that you might not only receive,
but also deserve, for your dreams to come true?
There’s a lot more I could say on this topic—such as how to practice effective strategies for hopeful thinking—but I think it’s important to start with the realization that hope is essential for us as human beings. It keeps us moving, changing, and growing into the people we were meant to be.
Our lives rarely resemble a greeting card or a carefully curated Instagram post. Life is uncertain, and bad things happen to good people all the time. For now, regardless of what you’re dealing with, or how you feel this holiday week, remember that change is constant.
We can choose to anticipate a more loving, joyful experience for our future, and allow these thoughts to motivate small steps in this direction. Hope provides us with options for how to deal with adversity and where to go once we’ve lifted ourselves out of the shadows.
Happy Holidays to all! If you’re feeling moved, share below your experience of Hope and how it uplifts your life.