A Reflection on Hope

IMG_3758In February of 2013, when my dad went into the hospital, I was overwhelmed by the intense, unbearable hope that my dad be made well.

At first, this was hope for a diagnosis. I thought that if we could just name his disease, they could make Dad better.

I was wrong.

When I got what I wanted, I didn’t want it after all. Because the diagnosis was aggressive killer cell leukemia/lymphoma. It was a death sentence. And my deepest hope was for my dad to not die. For him to not be in the hospital with oxygen flowing into his nose through tubes, barely able to talk, having to call in a nurse to help every time he had to urinate.

If you have ever hoped for something impossible, you know how it feels. Like your soul is banging itself against a brick wall. And the wall doesn’t give. And your soul won’t stop. Every time it flings itself it just hurts worse because it’s already so battered and bruised.

Despair–that’s probably what you’d call it–the shadow side of hope. When hope slams you into a wall of impossibility and grief.

The tendency, I think, is to save ourselves from despair by moderating hope. By trying not to want anything too much. This is certainly not a way to live life to the fullest, but it can work in staving off despair–until it doesn’t.

We fall in love. We get sick. We watch someone we love waste away. And the hope sparks and burns into despair.

Then what?

In my dad’s hospice room, there was a moment . . . When he didn’t have the energy to speak. When his breathing was labored, hollow. When we knew the disease was poisoning his whole body. When his children, wife, grandchildren were gathered around him and the Hallelujah chorus was playing. There was a moment when my deep hope shifted and I desired, for him, his release from that broken, breaking body.

A shift in hope. To hope for something we don’t really want–something painful in its goodness, heart-wrenching in its holiness. Is that a form of grace?


*I shared this reflection at Peace Mennonite on the first Sunday of Advent.

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7 thoughts on “A Reflection on Hope

  1. It’s a gut-wrenching grace, Joanna, but I think you are right. It’s also the letting-go kind of grace when surrendering to God’s deep care and presence is all there is. Your words touched me. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this. It was very beautiful. We have been going thru some of the same things w/ my 85 y.o. father for the past yr. and a half. Mom’s been gone almost 25 yrs. already, so it’s just us 6 siblings. (I am the oldest.) It’s so hard to let go. And how to.

  3. Thanks again for a meaningful post. I will be leading a “Longest Night” service tonight and was contemplating what to say as I journey with my own complicated grief. Your story reminded me of the strange, but no less real ways (often small and ordinary) that God comes to us and places hope in us – so we take the next breath, the next step (even the unexpected ones) and journey on. Thank you.

  4. Your story….similar to my Dad’s. He died in Hospice in October – 2 year’s with Myloid Leukemia. I can relate how you frame despair and I’ve found how it dances with Hope. I swung back and forth yet come time for when he decided to go to Hospice – he walked in – and was there 3 weeks until he passed. It was the most Grace-filled and Hopeful time for both my Dad and his girls. (My Mom died a year ago… and my husband was diagnosed with cancer a week before my Dad died).
    If I didn’t do this dance with God between Despair and Hope, I’d be inhuman. Thank you for telling your story of likely one of the most significant times – the most Grace-filled thin space between you and God Times – it just simply reminds us that we are never alone in this… that we are more alike than different. We need each other and in the telling of our pain – and in our hope stories. Joy comes with the dawn.
    I so appreciate when your blog pops up, you carry a weight of authenticity that is refreshing in a world that looks at times, like a circus of illusions and con artists. Peace to you today and for your bruised and tender heart.

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