I thought I lost my hope for a while when I lost my baby Elisha. In reality I never understood what hope was, and that loss was just the beginning of my journey to discovering true hope. I had this conception that hope was what I felt when I wanted something to happen. I had hoped for good grades all through school. I hoped for certain gifts from Santa as a child. On the same level, I hoped I would be good enough to make it to heaven some day. As an adult, I hoped to have a family with my new husband, and our first child was so quickly conceived that it seemed all of my hopes were coming true. I was rocked to the core when my 'hopes' for meeting and raising this child were soundly dashed at his death. I asked, "What is hope?" How can hope be a good thing if God can just decide to take what you hope for away? What if I hope for things that are not in God's plan? 'Put your hope in the Lord' was a phrase I had heard, but I didn't understand what that could mean. I knew that God is unchanging, so what action did I have to hope He did? I didn't figure hoping that I made it to heaven made any sense anymore. I knew the rules, I just had to follow them to get there. That seems to me now to be a very 'Old Testament' way of looking at it. And hoping the Lord answered a certain prayer didn't make much sense, it seemed the better virtue in that case was to trust that whatever happened there would be some good.
Time passed. I continued to search. I think at some point I decided to just trust that hope was a thing that I might understand some other time. I focused on trust and set hope aside for a while. It still stuck out at me when things were named for hope or the virtue was talked about. I was content with the fact that it was a mystery to me.
A song stuck out to me one day in mass, because we sang, "All my longing is for thee," and I was feeling longings for things other than just God. I still do, though I have sorted out that the longings of my body for physical goods are not really the longings of my heart unless I let them be. The great gift of fasting helps me clearly see what I should not be longing for and weed out my immoderate indulgences. In doing so, I can focus again on my longing for things that are not of this world. I still struggle with the longing to have my Elisha here with me, and with the thought that I desire heaven in order to be reunited with Elisha. That could be a good desire maybe, but not one that should war with the true joy of union with God. If I desire a relationship with my child who was never born, how much more should I desire to be with my Lord who created both of us? With these thoughts I offer back my children to God. When the thoughts come I again acknowledge that my children are God's children first and foremost and only mine as a gift for this short time.
The desire I have to be with Elisha in heaven stems of course from my mother's love that comes so naturally as a gift from God; from my maternal instinct that my baby needs to be raised and stay close by me, at least for a little while. But with that gift I realized that I need to love God even more deeply than I love these people called my children that he has gifted me with. The deep love I feel for my children leaves me in awe of the depth of love that God feels for us, His children. I must use this as a reminder to grow in the depth of my love for God, as it rightly should surpass that love that I hold for any person, even my own blood. If I in my imperfect human nature can love and long so deeply to be with the child I had only for a short while, how much more should I turn my love towards the Father who loves perfectly and infinitely?
But these desired I had not connected to hope until a priest's homily at a conference in October. He defined hope as two things, the desire for God and the reliance on God's strength. This simple definition seems to be what I was looking for. This made me realize that I am not without hope, I just didn't know what name to give to what I was feeling. I had a word that I thought I knew the meaning for, and it left me struggling when I couldn't reach that unknown thing that seemed so important to others. Now I can see that the effort I made to purify my desires and center them in the Lord was and is really an effort to grow in hope. I had to learn to place my hope in the Lord and praise Him for His gifts, not the other way around. Another lesson that I have also been learning and continue to learn is to rely on God's strength, because I cannot do anything alone. I can't even draw a single breath without the life God gave to me, the oxygen He gives us all, and a million other things. What made me think my own strength would help me on this journey towards hope?
For now I have discovered a meaning of hope and how to grow in it. I have a measure of hope and pray to God for His strength in growing more. I might not have all my answers yet, but my journey in this great adventure called 'life' continues.