“Don’t get your hopes up.” The inner voice pounced immediately, barely a heartbeat after my actual voice had said, “Wow, this could work out.”
Negativity is not my natural inclination, yet this mind-battle of the voices has been waging as long as I can remember. I wasn’t conscious of it for most of my life, but now I recognize it, and I can call it out and say, “Hey, wait a minute, voice — who are you? And WHY shouldn’t I get my hopes up?”
The answer comes easily. It’s Mom’s voice, and the reason I shouldn’t get my hopes up is that I “might be disappointed.” Mom’s cautionary remark and its corollary “Don’t get your heart set on it” were meant to protect me, but really — what an awful mindset to convey to a kid!
Sins of the Past Visited Upon the Present
How disappointing my mother’s life must have been to cause her to consistently quell passion in herself and her children. She gave up her dream of being a soprano (a singer, not a mobster) and instead married an alcoholic and struggled emotionally and financially for the rest of her life. I’m not saying she was miserable, she wasn’t. Just disappointed.
Once I asked her why she didn’t leave Daddy when the drinking got bad, and she said how much she loved him and then added, “Where would I have gone? I had no skills, I hadn’t worked since World War II, and I had you three children.”
I suspect that her mother — my grandmother — had a similar experience in her marriage, and on top of that, she lost her first child as a toddler. Then her husband died in a horrific fire at sea when her four kids were teenagers. So I imagine that she also frequently advised her children not to get their hopes up. Mom inherited the inner voice, just as I did.
My mother always said I was much braver than she was, going out into the world and going after the education and the career I wanted. But I wasn’t really. I was just as fearful as she was.
I believe in God, though, and Mom didn’t. I believe in some sort of divine plan, and I sense that I’m a part of it. That makes a huge difference to how you feel when you’re stepping out into the fog of the unknown.
Nothing Good Ever Happens to Me
Having hope seems like a risky thing. It’s easier to expect the worst. Then you’re not disappointed. Also, if you have no hope, you don’t have to take responsibility for your life. You don’t have to try: you are a victim. See? Easy.
But is it really easier?
The belief that underlies “not getting your hopes up” is that nothing good is going to happen. There’s probably an element of “I’m not worthy, not good enough” involved, and perhaps a touch of depression or acedia. That certainly runs in my family.
So is it true that nothing good ever happens in life? Of course not. It usually comes down to our attitudes. I’ve heard it said that difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude. Trite, but often true.
Over time, doesn’t the hopeless approach — the fatalistic attitude, the worry and dread, the boredom of not taking risks — wear you down as much as a whole boatload of disappointments might?
You Have to Dive In to Catch a Good Wave
Why not run into the ocean and try to catch the Big Wave? Sure, you might get knocked down and get a pile of sand in your bathing suit — but you might get an exihilirating ride! Either way, you are fully participating in life.
Jesus said that he came so that we could have life, and have it to the full. I believe that. We’re not meant to shrink from our passions. The Bible says that if we align ourselves with God’s plan, God will give us the desires of our hearts. I try to believe that, too.
Part of me knows that my dreams and passions come from God — they are unique gifts that She means for me to share with others. When I view challenges and transitions as part of God’s plan for me to use and expand those gifts, my struggles often result in “immeasurably more than all I could ask or imagine,” as the Bible describes it.
And yet I still have trouble trusting that God wants the best for me. It’s these dang voices.
When I get to the end of my life, I don’t think I’m going to regret the things at which I didn’t excel, or even those things that I totally messed up. I think I will regret the things I didn’t pursue, the times when fear conquered hope.
They say that courage is just fear that has said its prayers. So, God, please help me out here, OK? You deal with the hopeless voices of my mother and my grandmother. You can have them; I don’t need them anymore. I’m ready to get my hopes up and catch a good ride.