“I just got the test results”, she leaned close as we waited in the school hallway. “I don’t care if it’s a girl or a boy, as long as it’s healthy.” My smile weakened, tears pressing as I looked for my child, the one who wasn’t born healthy, instead sporting extra chromosomes and their complications. I knew she had withheld the happy announcement until she was assured that her baby had passed the tests. But what if it hadn’t?
Ben charged out the classroom door, thrilled to see me waiting. I gathered his little body close, held him tightly.
“I’m afraid to give my life completely to Jesus,” the girl at the coffee shop said, twisting the straw wrapper with anxious fingers. “What if he sends me to Africa?” I let my gaze rest on the table between us, my own future as uncertain as hers. How could I assure her that she wouldn’t, indeed, find a home there?
“Things are so good right now,” my friend said, but her eyes were haunted. “But I can’t stop thinking that something bad is bound to happen.” I thought of her picture-perfect home, her devoted husband and beautiful children, and wondered at the fear that stole her enjoyment of the life that so many long for.
Some of us draw boundary lines between our hearts and God’s. We are aware that life brings not just great joys, but also great pain. So we attempt to protect ourselves against what he may ask of us. We wall off areas of our lives and post a guard at our hearts, hoping to make it through to the end unscathed. Like children in a classroom afraid to catch the teacher’s eye, we desperately hope that we won’t be called upon to demonstrate the faith that we claim to live by.
It is a very small lens to peer through. It’s a very small box to make a home in.
It’s a form of superstition, this bargaining with fate, with the universe, with God himself. “Please don’t call on me,” becomes our incantation to protect us from whatever or whoever is out there.
We have been adopted, made valuable by a God who calls us his joy. But too often we cling to an expectation that we should be sheltered from the world’s darkness, when instead we are called to be lights in it. So we wait for the test results to come back before deciding whether we will unclench our fists enough for him to fill them.
If we shut our heart’s doors against the threat of pain, we are also closing them against a life that is rich and deep and meaningful. And suffering visits us all, no matter our efforts to skirt it.
As children, my friends and I spent many hours attempting to build a dam across Strawberry Creek; but no matter how carefully we arranged the rocks and sticks across its path, the water always found its way through the barriers we so carefully stacked against it. Suffering is like that. Even the largest dams must make a way to allow the water through somehow. The wise among us harness its energy as it goes; others refuse to engage it until the pressure breaks through and destroys everything downstream.
No amount of preemptive fear will stave off the pain that comes to all who call this planet home. But just as we can expect hardship, we can also expect joy. Even the worst of circumstances cannot conquer heaven’s final word. But when we fix our eyes on fearful possibilities instead of joy’s assurance, we allow our spinning thoughts to steal the beauty that might be just around the corner.
“For the joy set before him”, Jesus endured the cross. “Rejoice always,” said Paul from his prison cell. “I believe I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living” sang David, hunted and hiding in the desert.
Pain is a probability, but joy is an assurance. Living a small and shallow life to avoid the one can make us miss the other. “As long as it’s healthy” shuts the door against wonder, against adventure. Against miracles.
Are you stacking rocks of fear against the threatening darkness? Or building torches to light the way to morning? In his hands, our hearts are safe. In his presence, there is rest for our souls. Whatever the test results.