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a second valentine’s day post. read the first one (from 2021) here.
Her voice came through with words on a grainy video screen, so familiar, an echo through time and space, years after my own words ran dry with the same emotion.
“I’m just tired of hoping,”
my friend said, reflecting on her singleness and on the beatitudes another friend and I had laid out about our own partners. I can’t blame her, can you? I’ve been her.
Hope is easy to print onto coffee mugs and t-shirts, to smile about, and to hold out to our futures like a candle into the shadows, until it’s not. Until it becomes less about the hopes itself, and more about the tension between where we stand now, and the loose direction in which we hold that candle. Its flame quivers as our fingers ache from holding the looped metal base, as our hands shake from the fatigue of maintaining this grip.
We hope, but we worry. We hope, but we wonder. We hope, but we doubt.
Holding the candle out for years of waiting or deferred dreams will dilute its light towards us, and perhaps not even illuminate the path before us any more than we want.
There’s something that people don’t talk about when we talk about hope, and that’s this tension inherent in it. Those worries and questions we hold alongside of it, the not-yet-seen realities we hope for, all of these converging to leave us feeling not just tired, but exhausted from holding this hope up towards a darkness that seems no closer than anything else in our lives.
And perhaps, really, it’s not any closer. There’s the tension at its core: we’re hoping for things we cannot even conceptualize for ourselves. We’re hoping towards the dark of unknown realities. We’re hoping while our hands have to be busy doing other things besides holding this damn candle any longer.
The tension I see here is the exact thing that allows me to set this candle on the ground, keeping the flame of hope alive but disconnected from me and my dreams and the things my hands have to set themselves to besides this one thing.
What allows this kind of freedom, to let hope be hope, living and breathing on its own, instead of us holding it up forever, as if it needs us at all?
The tension. The tension of hope can free us, if we’ll let it.
I find that truth in the Hebrew word for hope, because I am a class-A nerd, and I know it. I admit it and honor it, because it helps me, it busies my hands, it puts my mind somewhere beyond my worries and doubts.
Hope, in Hebrew, has not just a definition, but a word picture. It imagines hope as a braided, twisted rope, held in tension—stretched out and taut by hands. I imagine it as someone hanging on the side of a cliff with this rope, or as someone trying to moor a ship to the dock on the shore, or as someone playing tug-of-war with this giant rope.
Hope is an active thing, with or without us. It will still hang onto the cliff without us also dangling precariously. It will hold the ship still after we tie it off and take our leave on shore. It will lay on the ground with kinetic energy, waiting for the next tug someone challenges someone else to.
It’s holding all that tension within itself, a Fibonacci spiral of energy and possibility, that we need only be curious about. It doesn’t need us to figure it out; it needs us to see it. That’s all.
But we grow weary as we add to its tension—with lists and should’s and shouldn’t’s and endless litanies of what we are pursuing, exactly—picking the candle back up to push back the darkness that we ourselves have created here. The future isn’t dark until we name it such. We create shadows of something otherwise labeled as “abundant” by labeling it something else entirely, societal expectancies and given-in responsibilities that reduce us to nothing more than puppets in systems that we don’t, really, want.
What do we want? What do we hope for? Where is all this tension building?
I think the answer is pretty simple: love. We want to be loved.
And so we imagine our future without what we need for that—a partner, family, work/life satisfaction and balance—and hope for those. Tension develops, and weariness sets in.
We can’t stop this tension, but we can admit to the mistake that we’ve made: our desire for love has outpaced our identity as Beloved.
Hope slackened for me when I rested in my Belovedness. When I actively sat the candle back down, only momentarily viewing it again as I specified my hopes in simple one-word prayers for the elusive husband I hadn’t found yet.
Please know: I do not believe in a theology that says once we do this, we’ll find our partner. But I do believe that our eyes get opened wider to possibilities when we let go of the rope and rest instead. When we release the mooring, unfurl the sails, and let the wind take us. When we say yes to opportunities that allow us to find abundant life right where we thought we were missing it. When we forget ourselves and our desires for the sake of just how desired we are without the missing things.
We aren’t missing anything. Not really.
I’ll never stop being thankful for the hope I stumbled into—as its own magic, a breathing, tenuous thing—as I stumbled away from making up my own hope. I fell off a cliff into abundance within the valley; I opened the sails on my day-to-day life instead of just my destiny; I dropped the endless tug-of-war that had no opponent but myself.
And I found more peace than I had known before. I found myself not as tired in my heart-space. Hope didn’t need my input or energy; it simply needed me to stop forcing it into place, and let the pieces fall as slowly as they needed to instead.