People usually think of hope as a positive state of mind. It can be, but there are times when having hope can be a handicap.

As a verb, hope is the desire that a particular event will happen. (Archaically, particularly in the Bible, hope is more than desire; it is a certainty.) Hope enables us to endure. Endurance is useful when we have a worthwhile goal we’re trying to reach – like practising an instrument or a sport or working at a relationship. But hope can have a negative aspect: it can stop you moving on from a lost cause.

I’m trying to kill my hope and desire for marriage. Whether you’re going to stay single or get married, the preparation for it is the same – put God’s kingdom first. But there’s no point praying for a partner if God doesn’t intend for you to get married. (I’m not an advocate of “free will”: free choice, yes; otherwise we couldn’t be held responsible.) So why waste time and money looking for a partner when you could make better use of both of them looking heavenward?

It would be easier if God would tell me, so I could either persevere or give up and stop wasting time looking, and make use of that time in something useful. But He never has so told me in the past, about anything. While it doesn’t mean He won’t, I’ve already spent much time looking and hoping and thinking about marriage: time that, if I’m to be single, could have been better spent.

I do not have the gift of celibacy – the most unwanted gift, even before martyrdom. I am not content being single. Maybe I’m destined to remain single, but I believe you can be so destined and still not have the gift. Call it a divine discontent: like George Herbert wrote in “The Gift” (as I recall it):

when almost all was out, God made a stay;
perceiving that alone, rest in the bottom lay.
“For if I should”, said He,
“bestow this gift also on my creature
he would rest in nature, not in the God of nature,
so both should losers be.
Then let him keep the rest,
but keep them with repining restlessness:
so that if goodness lead him not, yet restlessness
may toss him to my breast.”

I may remain single, but unwillingly: I need to work not to be miserable or resentful. (“Count your blessings” seems trite, but it can help if you let it. It doesn’t resolve the problem or take the grief away, but it may ameliorate it.) Unless God tells me otherwise, wisdom dictates that I should kill the hope of marriage and seek to find some way to make up for the lack of companionship and comfort and health that such a relationship would provide. (Generally speaking people with partners are healthier, happier and live longer. I’m a tactile person but being single I have no one to hold or touch, which is healthful for people. This means I’m not likely to live that long. Being 35 years old and untouched means I’m more stressed and unhealthy than others my age who are hitched.)

But hope doesn’t die easily. If it does, I can focus on writing, which I think may be what God wants me to do: I’m far from sure, but it seems the most likely at the moment. I’d be more phlegmatic – not to say sanguine – about it if I had some definite ministry (unless it was one where I needed a partner to cope), but I don’t. I’ve written two books and a couple of others are almost finished. When they are, I think I will be too. There’ll be nothing more I can contribute, except in the way that everyone can: with words of encouragement to others, a general Christian witness, blah blah blah. Not that I’ve been a great witness so far. A starry night gives a better testimony than I do.

Getting through life when your hope doesn’t materialise seems to be like breaking a bad habit. My dad gave up smoking over 15 years ago but he still gets a craving for a cancer stick every day about 3pm. Likewise, hope can draw us to scratch at a door that is better kept locked up.