White Knuckles and Open Hands
When I was a little girl, I would pray for all sorts of audacious things, believing not only that God could give them to me, but that He would. One of the most notable examples of this was when I prayed for free ballet lessons as my mother asked me to. I wanted to be a ballerina, although it turns out that I don't have the knees for it. Still, as a seven-year-old, I prayed for something that seems awfully far-fetched to me all these years later.
But I got them.
There was a woman, a former ballet dancer, a neonatal surgeon. She taught ballet lessons for free on her days off.
There's quite a bit of initiative in hope. I have to go out on a limb, even if it's in my mind. I admit my hope to myself, to God, to others, perhaps. I have to lean into it. I have to put my weight on the branch, knowing that it might snap and let me fall.
Later in my ballet career, I auditioned for the Nutcracker. A Canadian company would perform every year, creating a few small roles for local dancers. I was about ten, trying out for the first time.
Everyone told me that I probably wouldn't get a part.
I've always been stubborn, however, and I hoped until it hurt. I thought about what it would be like to dance at the Opera House with all of those people watching me. I thought about being on stage with professional dancers. The very thought made me dizzy with anticipation.
The day of the auditions came. I was so nervous that I felt sick, blood pumped in my ears as I walked into the studio with a great company of other girls in leotards and tights.
There is nothing about leotards and tights that inspire self-possession.
We danced in lines, learning steps and repeating them back, to familiar music. The Nutcracker was in the air.
Then came the elimination. Round after painful round.
At the end, my number was called and I graciously accepted the part of an angel. In that moment, all of the hope that I'd bravely held to (while trying to play it cool for those who had warned me that I might not get in the first time) was justified.
In the years since that day, I've hoped for many things. There are always people telling me not to "get my hopes up." Too often, that person is me.
Things haven't always worked out like that first Nutcracker did. I didn't always get the job, the boy didn't always like me, my writing didn't always get published. I know what it is to cry bitter tears of disappointment. I've lived long enough to know that what I hope for doesn't always happen.
It's tempting to stop hoping. I fight the urge every day. It's easy to think that I've hoped for so long, without cause, with no results. It's easy to think that it just isn't worth it.
When I get this way, I think about that woman in Luke 8. She'd been bleeding constantly for twelve years. Culturally, she was unclean, so she was going without touch all that time. She'd spent everything she had on doctors, to no avail. Her situation seemed hopeless.
Still, she hopes. She must because she comes up and touches the fringe of Jesus' cloak.
Immediately, she is healed.
Hope is a little rebellious, I think. Choosing to hope doesn't mean that I'm covering my eyes and ears and singing to avoid reality. It means that I'm choosing to look into a situation, desperate or not, and believe that something wonderful can happen, even here, even with me, even in this.
When I hope, I can't play it cool, I can't pretend that the outcome doesn't matter to me. Hope is high stakes. Hope is reaching out and touching the fringe, knowing that there is a very real possibility that nothing will happen.
I'm three steps forward, six steps back with hope, it seems. Recently, as I slipped down the hill, a friend texted me Romans 12:12. The first few words are: "be joyful in hope."
I don't want to be joyful in hope. Hope is what I do with my knuckles white and a look of quiet terror. Joy is about letting go, giving into delight, embracing happiness. I don't know how to mix the two.
But ten-year-old me did. She went right ahead and visualized that stage, that floor-length pink hoop skirt, the bun on the top of her head. She went ahead and enjoyed the ride, even though she didn't know what would happen for sure. Maybe she didn't know any better, or, just maybe, she knew better than I do now.