I was fourteen and still riding my bike to my best friend’s when I exchanged the innocence of youth for unbelief. I was out of pigtails but still had a bedtime when I siphoned myself off hope.
It would be at least 15 years later before I realized what had happened to my own heart on the day my dad’s injury sidelined him from coaching and teaching and from keeping my world normal.
The day my dad got sick and those subsequent, broken months were what started my relationship with the belief that things never actually do work out for good.
(When was it for you? I whisper.)
My most recent brush with hope — or, more accurately, the most recent time that I stared at cold, distant and masked unbelief in the mirror — came on a Thursday afternoon this April. I was in the waiting room of a doctor’s office — appropriate, seeing as how I’ve spent some time in the waiting room of life.
A broken ankle landed me there. A silly running injury. The x-ray would reveal my fate, except “excuse me, Mrs. Hagerty, we require a pregnancy test for all our patients getting x-rays.” I smiled. She didn’t know I might has well have bought stock in the companies that make pregnancy tests. Even the mere suggestion would have sent me spinning a few years ago, reminded all over again of what that test always revealed. Reminded all over again that a waiting room might be where I’d spend my life. All she had in hand was a file with my chart, indicating that I had five children. Five names, no histories. A piece of paper. Of course a woman like me, on paper, might need a pregnancy test.
She couldn’t have known my story.
Thirty minutes later and in the most unsuspecting way I heard the kind of news that I’d dreamed about receiving a hundred different ways and over many years of my life. I cried on the sterile waiting room chair in front of women in scrubs whose names I didn’t know. How is this real?
Then I woke up the next morning and I looked at unbelief in the mirror. Hello again.
I’d had this kind of crazy surprise 18 months ago and it ended with a baby that slipped right through me and into eternity. I remember feeling that I might as well be fourteen again, slowly disillusioned by life and now subtly learning the way of the world and that the way most people live is through self-protection. Better to expect the worst than to have it blind-side you in your naiveté.
For the person who’s given subtle permission to “hedging her bets” and “playing it safe” — to the person who is “rightfully cautious” — the opportunity for hope is actually petrifying.
I woke the next morning unavoidably aware of just how much I don’t actually believe Him. It felt easier to have a closed womb, a forever-and-done prognosis, than it did to have one small chance to hope that things might not turn out awful. Because if I had the chance to hope that things might not turn out awful than I had to wrestle with all the internal noise that stands between me and that actuality.
The wrestle to hope exposes what we so masterfully shove down inside: our unbelief in God. (We all have it. Let’s just admit it.)
You see, this wrestle isn’t actually for the object for which we hope — the baby that we carry to term, the steady paycheck over a period of time, the marriage that is all we’d wanted it to be when we wore white, the restored relationship — the wrestle for hope is the wrestle for belief in Him. The Person — the Giver — not the object He gives.
If I choose to hope — to throw myself into what most would call crazy, the unstudied and unmeasured and unrealistic possibility for which I desire — then I’m also choosing to trust Him to pick up the pieces of me that might fall if doesn’t come and to trust Him to hold all the mess of me that surfaces as I face the fret and uncertainty that I mostly stuff when I don’t open myself up to hope.
To open ourselves up to hope is to open ourselves up to God. The heart that hopes is the heart of a child, fully open, fully trusting, and perhaps fully ignorant of the negative possibilities because “isn’t Daddy there to take care of it all, no matter what comes?”
It’s a myth to believe that our wrestle to hope is a wrestle with the object for which we hope — the spouse, the baby, the paycheck. My wrestle with hope is a wrestle to believe, again, that God is good … to me.
“Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick” (Proverbs 13:12). It doesn’t read “the object of my hope, deferred, makes the heart grow sick.” It’s when hope is deferred that we get sick.
Could it be that the cynics, the hope-less (the ones like me, at times), are sick … on the inside?
We were made to hope in Jesus. Wild hope. Un-abandoned hope. Little-girl-in-pig-tails-with-a-fiery-look-in-her-eye-and-a-strong-Daddy-to-scoop-her-up-and-kiss-her-ouchies kind of hope.
And lives that don’t hope — lives that hedge their bets and play it safe and live cautiously and expectant of the worst, preparing always for the doom around the corner and saying under their breath at any good moment “this is too good to be true” — have hearts that grow sick.
Trust me. I know.
So I woke up the morning after finding out I was pregnant in the waiting room of a doctor’s office and I met my sick heart. Again. The one that decided at 14, and dozens of other, subtle times throughout the next fifteen years later that things never really do work out for good. No never. (And I don’t often notice the sickness when I’m “prepared” for every awful potentiality, with every rational reason to expect the worst — but yet still reading my Bible.)
Meeting up with a chance to hope again has a way of exposing us.
And a way of unlocking us.
Thus, with a miscarriage in my history and a dozen previous years of barrenness, I chose to hope. I choose to hope. Daily. Sometimes hourly, of late.
Mostly because I’m getting old enough that I’m tired of playing it safe and swimming in an unbelief that I mask and I rationalize. I want Him.
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 3:5
So yes, you read that right. We Hagerty’s are growing by one in a few more months and I am living up to my namesake and perhaps stifling a laugh that in the same calendar year I turn forty I will have birthed a baby.
I surely didn’t expect this when I was twenty-three.
This post originally appeared at Everything Bitter Is Sweet.