My sister is in the middle of a crisis. We’ve been best friends for decades, so her crisis is my crisis. Her son and eleventh child is in the pediatric intensive care unit in a hospital a thousand miles away from here and the most his doctors will say is that they are “cautiously optimistic.” We have felt for some time that there are great things, great miracles that are meant to come through his life, and we watch daily for them.
Around us are a few people who are afraid that we are overly optimistic, and that if everything doesn’t turn out the way they think we hope, our faith will be shaken and like birds with wings suddenly broken, we’ll crash. They are willing to pray, for awhile, but when the outlook grows bleak, they retreat to their realism, clucking. Thankfully, they are the minority.
“God’s will” is a tricky thing, usually not manifesting itself plainly up front. Life might be easier if we saw two outcomes before us and there were a blinking arrow pointing at one, letting us know which He intended. We could save ourselves getting our hearts wrapped up in things that wouldn’t come to pass, because we would know it was pointless.
There is something pointed about pointless hopes … something irrational but fundamental. In some cases, we are supposed to hold two equally opposite outcomes, and everything in-between, equally in our minds. “He might die” and “he might live” and “he might be diminished” must somehow be equally acceptable, without challenging our faith or our realism. Somehow we must be able to pray with “real intent” and “full purpose of heart” and “nothing doubting” and still tack on “but if not …”
I really think more of us can do that than some think. Martha, much maligned for asking the Lord to have Mary come help her, pointedly said to the Lord when he later came to dead Lazarus, if you had been here, he would not have died, but even now, if you say it, he will rise again. Her faith was pure and complete, and perfectly balanced between two opposing possibilities. I really think this is within reach.
But while I brush off my irritation at being condescended to, I have to wryly admit that I’ve done it too. It’s easy for me to have unrestrained faith in God and to have careful, restricted faith in people. Perhaps I have faith in their ability to do certain things, but internally feel pained when I think of them facing other struggles. Maybe I just love them and don’t want them to get hurt. Maybe I feel out of control of the situation and I’m afraid. Maybe I have a lot of experience with things turning out badly and have less reason to be hopeful. Maybe I’m emotionally drained and just don’t want to ride this roller coaster with them.
As I sit here, I realize how human it is to want to protect people from sorrow by encouraging them to limit their hope. I hadn’t considered that I did it often, nor what a burden it places on someone for us to, even subconsciously, lack faith in them. Irritation now gone, I think I understand doubters a bit better, finding one hidden in myself.
This isn’t about those who say, “I knew that wasn’t going to turn out well.” I honestly can’t imagine anyone so insecure that even in their minds they would think something so hurtful. What it is about is considering from another’s view the choices laid before them, and honoring their moral agency enough to value the choice they make and have faith in them to work it out well. That, I can do better. And because I know how this feels, I will.
I believe in miracles. I am willing to be a fool and believe in impossible things, if it means that giving my heart to that plea wholly and completely … completes my faith. But if not … I will be fine, and so will she. Because I have faith in my sister too.
I’m ready to say gently in return now, “have a little faith in us.” And now I will have a little more faith in others too. May I learn to do it more graciously, as here, where I found the picture of the bird above.