“It taught me to hope,” said he, “as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.” Mr. Darcy – Pride and Prejudice” ― Jane Austen
A poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
This poem is, of course, most famous for its final stanza. There is something about loving that is so good for the heart, even if we then lose the person or thing that we have loved. It is in loving, where that love is selfless and pure, that our hearts are at their most whole.
But my question today does not completely focus on love. I have been pondering whether it is better to have hoped for something and then grieved its loss or non-emergence, than not to have allowed ourselves to hope at all. I write this when it seems like the world is plunging into a second time of lockdown as Coronavirus cases increase once again. Those on waiting lists for minor, yet life-changing operations have to wait yet more. Small business owners who launched last year with such hope and expectation, now find those hopes once more put on hold, or dashed altogether.
This week is also baby loss awareness week. In 2016 I lost my first baby the day before we were due to have our 12-week scan. It was an awful time, but I kept the British stiff-upper-lip and carried on. It is hard to properly grieve a life you never knew, and I suppose what I was grieving was lost hope. Then, when I became pregnant again a couple of months later, I told almost no-one, and found hoping incredibly difficult. I remember the relief at the first scan when I was told the baby was alive and had a heartbeat. But even then, I did not allow hope to flourish too strongly, and it wasn’t until my maternity leave that I actually began to prepare properly – we are indebted to some good friends who emptied their baby equipment into our house, as we had virtually nothing.
Now I look back, I wonder why hope is so hard. If I had allowed myself to hope a bit more, what would the difference have been? I don’t remember that second pregnancy with great joy, although my symptoms were reasonably easy. The months were grey, pierced occasionally by the bright light of God’s presence as he taught me how to forgive negligent medical staff during the miscarriage and acknowledge my sadness and grief at the lost life. Hope, I now realise, brings life and colour. It brings joy and excitement, which is good for the heart.
A friend of mine asked whether the pain of grief or rejection is less if you stifle hope, or if you allow it to blossom. It is impossible to compare like for like. But I have come to believe that a heart that hopes is healthier than a heart that supresses all hope. If we allow ourselves to hope, and the outcome is not what we hoped for, the difference between the height and the depth is greater and that is frightening. However, if we suppress all hope and live instead in anxiety and fear, we spend our life in the depths and never experience the heights. And the joyful emotions – when they do come – are somehow deadened and not long-lasting. So even if the outcome is grief once again, I believe that a heart that had been released to hope is in a better place to properly deal with the grief than one that had spent so much time in a prison of darkness.
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.