Hope is not a feeling. It’s fuel.
Let me explain…
Once upon a time, I dated a guy who liked to climb mountains.
Problem: I didn’t like to climb mountains. And neither did my friends. But magically, upon meeting this man, I, mysteriously, began to like climbing mountains (funny how that works).
Then he made us climb one…
With heavy packs and terrible shoes, four of us lugged up an alpine pass, back down into a valley, and up again to the other side. The mountains we were hiking were called the Sangre de Christo: the blood of Christ, and they would be our penance. For what you may ask? I have no fucking clue. But it must have been bad, really bad.
Like five-year-old children, my friends and I kept asking the boy who liked mountains, “Are we there yet?”
“Just another five minutes,” he’d reply.
Our ankles were swollen, and our backs were bent, but we’d continue. Hope had become our fuel. We were almost there! We could do this! Just take another step!
… till another five minutes… and another five minutes… and an-other… for two miserable hours.
“What the hell is going on? Have you been lying to us the whole time?”
“Almost! Just another five minutes. I promise I’m not lying this time. It’ll be worth it.”
“Why should we believe you?”
While hope is fuel, hope deferred is a brick wall.
You start the engine. Hit the accelerator. Build up speed. Think-ing a magical journey up a magical mountain awaits you. But instead of magic, you’ve crashed into a black and yellow bull-seye like the dummy you are, broken bones and bleeding heart.
While I don’t have any broken bones, my heart has bled plenty of times, and I’m not just talking about a shitty mountain trip.
After coming out of evangelicalism and the closet, I’ve become somewhat of a cynic. The former made me question all the good and the latter made me brace for all the bad, and all for good reasons…
… Realizing that so much of what I believed has hurt people.
… Beginning to doubt what is true after so many lies.
… Losing a career in ministry after giving so much time and money.
… Betrayed by friends and family who always talked about un-conditional love.
After all of it, I ultimately believe my cynicism keeps me safe, a shelter from the storm, while hope is for schmucks caught in a gale.
After an eight-hour hike, storm clouds rolled in and the sun be-gan to set.
“We need to stop for camp,” we said. “We can continue tomor-row.”
“Five more minutes.”
We pushed through the rain and continued on in the dark. We had come so far. We couldn’t give up now. At some point late into the night, we made it to our destination.
The boy who liked to climb mountains began to try and start a fire so we could cook our food. We were starving and cold. Hot beans sounded so nice.
While my friends pitched the tent, I gave the boy whatever dry moss and sticks I could find for kindling.
Eventually, we made a fire and gathered around to keep warm.
No one spoke. We just ate and crawled into bed. The boy and I had to share a sleeping bag because the other one got wet.
My friends and I had no idea what we were doing or what we were getting ourselves into. All we knew was that we were mad. Really mad.
Then morning came…
As the sun crept over the mountains, its rays warmed us awake. The boy who likes mountains shook me up, and he grabbed his fishing pole.
As I hemmed and hawed, stretching my back and wiping away crust from my eyes, I took in the scene…
… A turquoise alpine lake.
… A singing brook weaving through the trees.
… A tall granite cliff.
… A sprawling colorful valley.
… Greens and grays.
… Blue skies above.
… Yellow wildflowers below.
I sucked in the crisp mountain air.
“I told you it would be worth it,” the boy who likes mountains said.
And in that moment, I liked them too.
Hope is fuel; it got us up the mountain.
And cynicism is shelter; it hides me from the storm.
But something is wiggling inside me lately: If I never hope, I still lose.
Sure, those who hope may be conned, but at least for a mo-ment they’re happy.
Sure, those who trust may get robbed, but at least at one point they had possessions.
Sure, we may get suckered up the mountain, but at least we saw an alpine lake.
While hope deferred and betrayal suck, shaking our foundation, at least we had an up before we had a down.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m starting to learn we all get hurt, regardless of if we hide in the house or climb the Blood of Christ. But wouldn’t it be nice to hope for at least a little? Wouldn’t it be nice to get excited about what’s beyond the bend?
Which makes me realize hope is not just fuel, it’s also an act, a courageous, idiotic act: a choice… a lie even… a performance, a performance that makes us smile, makes us laugh, makes us cry, makes us feel.
At the end of the day, I think feeling—both the good and the bad—is better than lying down before we ever rise.
And who knows, maybe this time, we’ll actually rise.
Which brings me to my final point…
Yes, hope is fuel; yes, hope is an act; but most of all, I am learn-ing that hope is doubt, doubt that maybe this time it won’t go so wrong; that maybe this time it might not be so bad. Maybe, just maybe, this time our destination is around the next bend.
“Just five more minutes.”
Where have you felt like hope has hurt you?
Where has it been fuel?
Where has it been an action?
Where’s a place in your life that you can doubt negative certainty?
What’s at risk to hope again? Is it worth it?
This work was originally released via my publisher, Lake Drive Books, in their e-book: How I find Hope in the 2020s. It’s free for anyone who subscribes to their mailing list.
Also, this work is the first of a series called Breadcrumbs: clues I’ve found post evangelicalism. The series will be devoted to wisdom and insight I’ve uncovered after leaving evangelicalism. It’s meant to be a weird devotional of sorts. To be get the next one delivered right to your inbox, you can enter your email below.