Creativity Lesson: Hope
“Hope governs our behavior.” I still remember the moment I grabbed a pen and the closest piece of paper within reach and quickly jotted those words down. I had been cleaning my office that morning: putting books that our toddler relentlessly pulled off the shelf back in their place, throwing paid bills in the recycling bag, and looking with a bit of anxiety at the unpaid ones. In the background I had a John Piper podcast playing on the computer, but with my mind occupied with a whole lot of stuff, I was only catching phrases here and there.
And then the word “hope” stopped my busy hands. “Hope governs our behavior.” The words I scrambled to catch landed on a bright yellow notecard, which seemed fitting, because right in that moment I needed to slow down. My heart needed to sit with those words a minute, to ponder them, to take them off the page and put them to use in my life. I would not realize it until later, but I simply could not afford to miss their meaning.
Motherhood has a way of taking our eyes off the long-term view and drowning our vision in diapers, spilled cheerios, and toddlers climbing on the counter. The woman who once had a five-year plan with strategic goal milestones along the way is now counting the minutes until bedtime, unable to think of anything past the moment that the door to the last child’s bedroom is finally closed for the night. The couple who used to plan dream vacations on date nights is now planning budgets to make sure the medical bills are paid and the school supplies are bought. Being a parent is very here-and-now. Sure, we anticipate the seasons ahead but so often we get through the day one diaper, one spill, one heart-correction and discipline at a time.
But that is exactly why mamas need hope. Because hope “governs our behavior.” Hope is our anticipation of coming good and our confidence that today may be what we have right in front of us but it is not all we have.
This time of year, the word hope gets thrown around like a decoration: it’s on our Starbucks cups and framed in silver tinsel on the shelf at Hobby Lobby. It’s lit up on billboards and painted on store windows. It’s a safe word for the holiday season, moderately encouraging even. But if our hope truly does govern our behavior, it’s not enough to put it on a shelf or drink a caramel latte out of something proclaiming its festiveness. Hope isn’t a nicety. Hope is a lifeline. And that’s why where we put our hope makes all the difference.
Hope cannot come alive if it is only in a holiday and it will not sustain if it is only in temporary things: our bank accounts or reputations or even in our children. What, or who, we put our hope in is one of the most important things about us.
And it is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the most important things about our mothering.
When it comes to our own creative work, hope is equally important. Would we stay up late and get up early, would we wrestle the emotions bouncing around our minds to the ground, would we pay for babysitters or do the hard, vulnerable work of being completely and totally honest if we did not hope that in some way, all that work mattered? (Well, I might pay for a babysitter anyway).
The first time I heard John Piper’s words about hope, I knew they were true, and I knew that I needed them. Because my hope was in all the wrong things: it was in getting my son into the right therapy program, it was in my ability to change my daughter’s strong-willed nature, and it was in managing my home so that it looked presentable from the outside looking in. My hope depended on my circumstances, which were always changing and very difficult to control at all. So when all of those things were coming up short—when the insurance company fought the therapy and my daughter told me she wanted a new mommy and the third plate of the day fell from the table—my heart felt like it was coming up short, too. I was out of hope, and I was acting like it, because the circumstances I had put my hope in couldn’t carry the weight of it.
But when I thought about that angry mama reluctantly cleaning her office for the third time that week, I knew my actions were speaking for my hope, and that wasn’t what I wanted my three babies to see. They were watching a mama shaken and frustrated by the very life I had always dreamed of. They were looking at a heart that was screaming, “If I cannot have it my way, then I do not want it!”—the very attitude we try daily to curb in our little ones.
Motherhood has the most beautiful way of convicting, doesn’t it?
My hope was governing my behavior, and my hope was in ... well, it was in me. And I will always fall short. As those words scribbled on that yellow notecard came to life, I knew that my hope had to be in something far more permanent than my circumstances, because when our day-to-day lives are constantly throwing us curveballs we do not even have the time to steady our eyes to see coming, hope that doesn’t change—and does not disappoint—is exactly what a mama’s heart longs for.
Hope is what helps us take the long view in our lives, reminds us of the good that we believe is coming, and it dictates how we live as we wait. It gets us past the mess in front of us and helps our eyes see not just the what but the why. Hope is the soil from which all good things grow both in us and around us. And just like hope governs our behavior, it also governs our creativity. If our hearts see only here and now, so will our work. Perhaps one of the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves in our driest seasons, both of motherhood and of creativity, is this: what exactly do I hope for? The answer directs how we love our children and also how we create.
Motherhood and creativity—when they are founded on hope—really do fit together just right.
Can you think of a season when you felt out of hope?
What are your hopes for yourself?
For your marriage?
For your creative work?
In what ways are you misplacing your hope or hoping in the wrong things? What can you do to set your path straight and realign with what you truly believe?
How do you remind yourself of the hope that you have?
Write a letter to your children, writing out what you hope for them. Start with today: what do you hope for their day, their tiny moments of learning and experiencing right now? Then look ahead: what do you hope for their young adult lives, their first jobs and first loves and first real failures? Then look toward the end: who do you hope they become, and what do you hope they remember about you?
Mamas, the work of writing out our hopes for our children actually does its most important work in us: when we get clear on the kind of things we hope our children do, know, and are, it forces us to a higher standard, because they need to see those things in us.