Because things do not always go according to our plans or our desires, disappointment and hope always go hand in hand. We may discover the truth of that observation when we apply for a job or for admission into a program, organization, or school. You might think, for example, that you and your prospective employer or program are a perfect match, but despite your earnest efforts and self-confidence, you, for reasons often beyond your control, may not be chosen. It is always easy to get discouraged. That’s why, after such a disappointment, writing the next letter of application or making the next phone call is sometimes so hard to do.
I know how it feels to be rejected. A tall metal file cabinet in my home office contains a folder of hundreds of rejection letters that I received from 1988-1993 in reply to my application for university teaching positions. I was not alone. It seemed to be the norm then, both for me and for my classmates that one out of two hundred letters resulted in a full-time academic teaching position. Many persons I knew, despite their hard work, could only find adjunct teaching positions with low pay, no benefits, and no job security. I was extremely lucky to land the position I did at Temple University in a time of hefty budget cuts and hiring freezes.
In her senior year of college, my youngest sister and her suitemates devised the best strategy I know for dealing with the frequent disappointment that comes with applying for a job. Every rejection letter that she and her friends received from prospective employers was posted on the walls of their suite. By early May their walls were completely covered with rejection letters pasted side by side and end to end. This communal sharing of their rejection letters made it obvious to each of them that the rejections could not be taken personally, that is, each response was not a rejection of them as a person. They each knew that they had specific talents and skills; they only needed to find an employer who would appreciate those abilities.
Despair and hope go hand in hand. To live our lives fully we have to continue to hope in the face of despair. In Advent, we are often reminded of our “eager longing” and hope in the present for the future redemption of the whole creation (Romans 8:19 ff.).
The hope of the Hebrew people for a Messiah was borne and nurtured through centuries of disappointments, military disasters, and cataclysms. Their hope in the face of many reversals and disappointments was unabated. This hope was sustained, just as my sister had learned in her senior year in college, because together her suitemates were able to support one another in bad times just as they did in good times. The hope that they nurtured together empowered them to live under the promise that something better was yet to come.
The season of Advent this year is unlike any other in my lifetime. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are unable to safely meet together for in-person worship and fellowship, where we would, if only we could, support one another in person. We have found other unexpected ways to stay connected with Zoom and YouTube, and other electronic resources, that while they can never replace person to person contact, they have allowed us to widen the sphere of our connections, allowing people who might not otherwise be able to join us whether because of health or distance from us to do so. Even in the midst of our present despair, loneliness, and lack of meaningful personal connections, we remain hopeful that better days will soon be at hand.