Having Rebekah has been perhaps the most emotional, and emotionally confusing, experience of my still-short life. On the one hand, there is a great joy and wonder. A new life has come into this world, a new life that is in some sense mine. I look at my tiny premature daughter and there are feelings which I can’t quite put words to, mythical feelings of fatherhood, of protectiveness and delight. Yet at the same time, there are other feelings – grief, and an overwhelming fear – at her helpless state. I suppose every life is fragile, but its not philophizing about life in general that concerns me. It is my daughter’s life, so uncertain because of her early exit from her mother, that brings home to me in a way I’ve never experienced before the uncertainty of tomorrow.
It snowed yesterday, and I found myself dreaming about a year from now when I might take my little girl, all bundled up, to relish the fat flakes which drifted from the sky. Yet as I dreamed, I felt something in me recoil. It was like the guards on the bulwarks I’ve erected around my heart were calling out, warning me that I was on uncertain ground, that the enemy might strike at any moment and snatch her away. They called for me to retreat back to the safety of their walls of cynicism and fatalism. I could barely dare to hope, because at any moment I knew my hope could be taken from me.
This struggle to hope has characterized my days since Rebekah’s birth. There are beautiful moments. The first time I touched her hair, stroking it, I wept in gratitude over her isolette. Yet those moments are hard to keep; they are quickly overwhelmed by the terror that we might receive a midnight call from the neonatal intensive care unit and I might be plunged again beneath the torrent of grief.
It’s as if scabs have been peeled back from my heart, scabs I never knew were there. Over the years, without knowing it, I’ve slowly let the scar tissue cover my heart. I understand why they formed; scabs are a defensive measure. They keep you safe when you’re bleeding, keep your from being hurt worse than you already have been. For me, the safety came from the irony and pessimism with which I so quickly regarded the world around me. They kept me safe from loss. But I never before realized the price.
I’m beginning to realize that I – and I think many of us – have felt the thrill of hope, only to feel it snatched away. As we bite our lips and suffer the sting of this loss, we decide that it hurts too much for us to bear, and so we steel ourselves. If such is the agony of hope deferred, we decide it would be better not to hope at all. We build bastions around our hearts, perhaps the jaded bastions I have erected, or perhaps fortifications of control, or respectability, or false optimism. We peer between the crenelations at the hopes and joys of life and refuse to let them through the gates for fear they might be smuggling in some tragedy beneath the hay in the beds of their wagons.
Yet for the first time, there is something beyond those walls which I cannot ignore. I am realizing that in order to keep my heart from hurt, I’ve also protected it from freely dancing, from truly laughing, from merrily surveying the merchant’s wares as he lays them out in the courtyard. I am realizing that there are things in this life that are worth loving, worth holding on to, even knowing that they might be taken away. I cannot have both my daughter and my security; I cannot hold her close and keep her at arms’ length at the same time.
Hope is a hard thing. There are those who disagree, who call it naive, a wish-dream, a crutch. Yet I wonder what it is they find so threatening about it, that they must throw themselves against it in a rage whenever it rears its head. I wonder if perhaps their skepticism and scorn aren’t really the easy way out; after all, there’s no gamble when you’re mocking the game from the sidelines. The truth is that nothing is harder than real hope. The only way it can come is as an embrace, and you cannot open your arms and keep up your guard.
Perhaps this is why in Scripture hope and faith are so closely linked. We are frail creatures, and we cannot risk the beating the world may send our way unless we trust that our Father will be their to heal our wounds. I cannot love my daughter unless I know that the One who holds her life is also the One who watches over my own. Of course, this doesn’t make it any easier. The difficult reality is that every opportunity to hope is also a test of faith. It is only through the struggle to believe that I can look to the Lord as my strong tower, and thus leave the fortress I have erected.
If hope and faith are intermingled, then so also is hope and love. I have seen many families, many marriages, many friendships with only a pretense of love. I’m sure they would be offended at this description, but the people in such relationships are still seeking above all else to be safe. They might say they are protecting their independence, or their rights, or the person they love. In truth, they are only protecting themselves. This is because true love requires freedom. It requires vulnerability. It requires a sort of sacrifice which lays your heart down to serve another, and you cannot lay your heart down without leaving it open to be stomped upon or kicked away. Hope is the only thing that could motivate us to make this sacrifice, the only way we could consider t he risk to be worth it. It is only the hope of glory which enables a love which opens one’s arms and lets them be nailed to a cross.
Hope is a hard thing. I’ve been accused on occasion of bluntness, so I won’t try to paint reality up with a pretty face. I know my daughter could die. She could be snatched away from me at any minute. She could stop breathing, and no wonder of modern medicine would bring her back. That reality terrifies me. It’s like a gun in the universe’s hands, pointed at my head, ready to fire at any minute. But I cannot take cover from it and remain at my girl’s bedside. I cannot shield myself and still h0ld her little hand. The only way I can be safe is to sacrifice my joy.
For the first time in my life, that is not a sacrifice I am willing to make. I’ve got no clever rejoinders, no wry wit to disarm the hurt. I’m doing my best to have faith, wrestling with God and trying to trust His promises. I want to love my daughter, to put her interests above my own. And because of these things, I’m praying and striving to stand in the open where the bullet could hit at any moment, facing the world with my defenses down, trying to hope.
It’s a hard thing. But its worth it.