Hope Doesn’t Always “Feel Good”

I couldn’t move. I was lying in my bed, my hands trembling at my sides, pushing air in and out of my lungs. My body felt like it belonged to someone else. My mind reeled uncontrollably, worrying that I’d forgotten important to-dos, obsessing over interactions from the day, spinning with everything that could go wrong between now and the morning. All I wanted was sleep, but no sleep came.

I have anxiety so this experience isn’t uncommon for me, but it’s also one of the reasons that I love Advent. I know, I know. What do Advent and anxiety have in common? Darkness. Everyone has it, and it can take more forms than I can count. Sometimes we get so used to it that we become indifferent to it, and other times the world seems so dark that it seems impossible that it could go on at all, but the amazing thing about Advent is that it’s a time of preparation for a light that cannot yet be seen — a season of true hope.

Where Hope Belongs

It’s easy to assume that darkness is the enemy of hope, but, in reality, hope belongs in darkness. It belongs in pain, sadness, disappointment, anxiety, and shame; that is where it grows and flourishes.

The catechism tells us that the virtue of hope takes our innate desires for happiness and “purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven” (CCC 1818). By the grace of God, our disappointment with this broken world becomes a longing for God that brings us home.

Hope can be a harsh reality, though. In our world, it’s so much easier to settle for distractions. It’s easier to give in to things like drugs or pornography, to overuse things like Netflix, or to get caught up in a fantasy to avoid real life.

The problem, though, is that if we choose escapism over hope, then we’re directing our happiness toward worldly things and denying this virtue of hope that God wants to give us. True hope requires that we put all our happiness in heaven and that we entrust everything to our Father without settling for anyone or anything less.

Hoping Against Hope

Hope has always been a difficult concept for me, and a big part of that was the way I heard it talked about, like it was easy, like it was the same as being happy, like it felt good. In my experience, hope is beautiful, but it’s not comfortable. When I wake up already anxious or I get so overwhelmed that I can’t stop crying, that feels far from good but that doesn’t mean I can’t be hopeful.

In Romans, Paul writes about Abraham’s trust in God like this:

“Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:19-21).

When I let go of the idea of hope as feel-good or easy and instead consider Abraham fighting to give glory to God when all the facts were against him, I start seeing hope everywhere.

I see it during daily Mass when the priest preaches just as passionately for three people as he does for thirty. I see it in my sister when she cries for her friends because they don’t know God, and keeps praying for them even when they mock her faith. I see it in a friend who after struggling in silence for so long finally asks for help.

Sometimes hope looks like spending the day taking care of yourself because you know you’re worth taking care of even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Sometimes hope looks like picking up a rosary or opening the Bible when God feels miles away, because that is when prayer is most needed.

And sometimes hope is simply lying down at the end of the day with nothing left and praying, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

Hope doesn’t usually make the news; often, it isn’t spectacular or shocking or even pretty. Instead, it’s covered in sweat and tears and endlessly making room for Jesus. Hope is the one preparing the manger even when she can’t see Jesus coming.

Awaiting the Light

I don’t need to tell you that the world can be a dark place. Let’s remember that our first task—before fighting or preaching or anything else—is always to make room for Jesus, to look into the darkness within ourselves and not be discouraged, but prepare a place for Him, awaiting the day when He makes even the most broken into something beautiful.

I’ve come to realize that the Light of the world didn’t come to bring light to light; He came to bring light to darkness. So when the darkness invades—whether it’s sin or shame or suffering—I can only be encouraged that the darker the place, the brighter the Light will shine, if only I place my hope in Him alone.

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. […] We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:24-25, 28)