Of the challenges that I’ve encountered during my life, being a parent is by far the most difficult.
I don’t mean for that to sound as though I’m some wise, ancient guru or something. Certainly I’m not, as anyone who knows me well will happily attest. Still, I have had some experience at life, and, relatively speaking, I haven’t encountered an experience as difficult as parenting.
I also am not writing from the perspective of the things that you generally think of when you think of parenting challenges. No, diapers, cuts and scrapes, temper tantrums, cleaning up after projectile…sickness…all are inherently challenging in their own right, but I’m referring to something more…well, more metaphysical than that.
There’s an angst, for me at least, that comes with knowing that there are two small human lives for which I am responsible. This is angst born of the desire to somehow protect them from harm, to keep away that which would do them wrong at all cost to myself, as impossible a goal as that is. As frustrated as I have always been at injustice in the world, I am doubly so now, because I find myself sometimes feeling an overwhelming guilt about bringing our children into a world in which there is a seemingly constant state of war or power-mongering or profit at someone else’s expense.
Of course, when either of my daughters smile at me and express a desire for my time, this all goes away, because I know that I can only do my best within my sphere of influence. Still, when the emotional onslaught makes its presence felt, it is a force to be reckoned with.
The reason that it is so overwhelming is because it is rooted, I think, in a feeling of hopelessness. I see violence and hate growing around us, and I feel that I have no ability to stop it, despite my intentionality of choosing to not engage in it. I know that both of my daughters will make poor decisions, likely decisions that will harm them at some level, in the future, and that I will be unable to prevent this, as well, as much as I would give anything to do so. A lack of hope is a dark place, indeed, and the smallest glimpse of hope in a dark situation is cause enough for the fiercest struggle.
Except, sometimes, the hope that I’m missing comes, seemingly, out of nowhere.
I was in a coffee shop a few days ago, waiting what in my Western mind was an unacceptably long time for my over-priced drink, and I watched an older couple come and go. They were traveling, is my guess…passing through as this particular Starbucks was right off a major Interstate. I watched them interacting with each other, their talking and their smiles, and my imagination began to weave a story around them. How had they met? How many children did they have? Where were those children now? What insurmountable odds had they faced at various points in their life together?
Certainly they’ve seen more than I have, and overcome more than I could imagine simply by virtue of their age. I wonder what pain and grievous moments might have interrupted their joy at being parents, either by decisions made or by the actions of outside forces over which they had no control. I wondered when they had felt powerless, as I sometimes do.
And I concluded that, whatever their story, whenever and however these events had occurred, that they were here now, enjoying time together, having made it through whatever challenges they had faced.
And there, in my imaginative wandering, was the hope for which I sometimes find myself grasping. They made it through.
And we will, too.
Not without scars, of course. Life gives us those regardless of our best efforts, but it is by those scars that we learn.
I don’t know those people, their names, or their stories. I very likely will never see them again. We do have friends, however, in the same position, friends who have been through more life than we have, and that, with only their presence, give the same hope.
I wonder if, one day, someone will see Karen and I in a Starbucks (that part, at least, is very likely) and think these thoughts. Because I know that we will have made it. I know that our children will have made it, that, in the end, everything will be okay. Not because things around us got better, but because life is created to survive, and because Light is created to overwhelm the darkness.
If we’re open to it, the hope will find us. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to be receptive to it, and that’s okay. That’s a spiritual discipline in itself. When revealed, though, the smallest hope will always bring us through the most crushing of obstacles.
Hope, by definition, will always point us to faith.
And hope is always, always more powerful than hate.