I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hope. Of the three virtues—faith, hope, charity—hope has traditionally been the one I thought about least, because on the surface it seems like such a simple virtue, even for a habitual pessimist like me.
But I’m starting to get that hope isn’t that easy, or that simple.
Yesterday in fast and testimony meeting, a couple of women bore testimony of miracles they’d seen in their lives. As they spoke, their faces radiated the assurance and hope that led them to the miracle in the first place.
I have to admit: I struggle with testimonies like these because they seem to link faith, hope, and miracles in uncomplicated ways, even though I know such testimonies are important. In the last thirteen months, I’ve lost two pregnancies (one of them in the second trimester). I have some idea what it’s like to plead for a miracle that doesn’t happen—at least not the way you’d like.
Statistics are funny things. We recite statistics to ourselves because we find comfort in reassuring ourselves that the odds are in our favor. But it only takes one time of finding yourself on the wrong side of a statistic (80% of women who miscarry go on to have a healthy pregnancy the next time; less than 2% of women miscarry after a heart-beat is detected), to realize that you’re vulnerable. While my husband and I still believe that God wants us to add to our family, the thought of pregnancy scares me, because this time I know there are no guarantees.
So I’ve been reading a lot about hope. And here’s the paradox I keep stumbling into. Miracles require faith. Faith requires hope—the assurance that God can, in fact, achieve miracles in our lives. But at the same time, we’re told to reconcile ourselves to the will of God—to accept that what we hope for may not, in fact, come to pass. Here also is my struggle: how do I maintain faith and hope when my experience has taught me that hope may be fruitless?
In his talk “Trust in the Lord,” Richard G. Scott said, “To produce fruit, your trust in the Lord must be more powerful and enduring than your confidence in your own personal feelings and experience.” This is powerful—and for me, sometimes damning. I want to trust God, but I’m also afraid. I’m afraid of going through the same disappointment of loss, even though I’ve been luckier than some women (I have two healthy children). Even though I know from experience that God would be with me, I don’t want to go there again.
But maybe that’s what hope—real hope—requires. Larry Hiller argues that hope is not “the verbal equivalent of keeping your fingers crossed.” He points to the puzzle of Romans 5:3–5:
We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
In this passage, it’s those same difficult experiences that make it hard to hope that create hope.
I’m not sure exactly how this works. Maybe our experience in trials shows us that God will be with us, no matter what happens. Maybe a genuine hope recognizes that all things (even apparently bad ones) can ultimately work together for our good (D&C 98:3). Maybe it’s because what we hope for is not the specific miracle, but the idea of miracles–and experience teaches us faith in God’s power, even when that power isn’t exercised as we had desired. Or maybe it’s simply because the exercise of hope increases our capacity to hope, allowing us ultimately to (as our thirteenth article of faith suggests) “hope all things.”
What have your experiences with hope been like? How do you see the role of hope in your daily life? What helps you sustain hope even when times are hard?