Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back! In our culture, guarantees are gold. You must make them and declare yourself with certainty. If you don’t, who will trust you or your product? Every selection comes with a guarantee of some sort, whether we are choosing politicians, entertainment, products or services.
The hero in our predictable movie promises the small child, “I will always protect you.” And he does. The love interest entreats our hero, “Promise you will come back alive!” to which he confidently proclaims, “I will.” And he does.
It’s nice to watch the good guys win, even and especially if they do so against all odds through terrific and impossible feats of ingenuity and gratuitous luck. But part of us is bored. While we enjoy the fantasy, we acknowledge that it is fantasy. It is an escape from our reality. Temporarily, we want to be locked into a predictable journey. In real life, we know that not everyone makes it through and no one makes it through unscathed. All of our guarantees amount to simply pretending and hoping.
Life can be painfully unpredictable. I have a friend who purchased cancer insurance. Later, she got cancer and her claim was denied–such a specific claim of certainty, without the intended effect.
We seek to cover the uncertainty of life with a veil of conjured confidence. Most often, we are terrified inside. We are holding on for dear life. We detect some grave injustice in our failures and difficulties. This is scared space.
But what if we could embrace the unknown?
Watch a toddler discover something new: the shocking cold of an ice cube in her hand, the momentary cringe followed by delight from her first taste of a lime quarter, creating her own words and mysterious yet meaningful sounds.
Joy and sorrow are possible because of a beautiful certainty and a wonderful mystery. The certainty is that the universe works in a very particular way. Cold is cold. Limes are sour. Communication and information is in the fabric of everything. There is such a thing as delight. The mystery is that there are discoveries around the corner that we haven’t grasped yet. How awesome to discover them!
My one-year-old daughter climbs the stairs. How wonderful to be able to climb! Then, she falls down the steps. How painful! Gravity works and we are glad for the certainty of it. On the other hand, gravity works and we cringe. How painful and unfeeling it is! How decisive!
She looks up at me crying. I hold her in my arms, rocking her while she cries. Her cry says two things, which we are all familiar with. The first is pain: This hurts and I don’t like it! The second is protest: How could you allow that to happen!? I rock her through the pain and sympathize with the protest. Turns out, I didn’t “always protect” her like the fantasy hero.
The truth is that I knew she would fall. All climbers fall and discover gravity in all it’s pain, sorrow, joy and beauty. To prevent her falling would be to prevent her discovery. To ensure her complete success in climbing the stairs would be to create an artificial, unsustainable, veiled world around her and separate her from the wonder of reality.
In scared space, we cringe through the journey and demand a guarantee of success. In sacred space, we embrace the journey and accept the beauty and pain of mystery.
My journey is a few steps down the road from hers. Having fallen many times from various heights, I know about gravity. But what about delight? What about wisdom? What about forgiveness, patience, kindness and love? These are also amazing things with beautiful certainty and wonderful mystery. And, like her, I am learning about them firsthand in my community of friends, family and enemies. They are agents of ‘gravity.’ They are the staircase. And I do fall.
When I fall and find myself hurt, I often find friends that surround me and care for me in my pain. They listen to my protests. Other times, when I fall, it seems as if no one is there. In this kind of silence, some conclude that God must not be there.
As a father, I have concluded that he is present, especially in the silence. In the silence, I can finally hear him. Without saying a word, he tells me, “Discover delight! Embrace wisdom! Savor kindness! Know love!”
God is with us on our journey even if his interventions are absent or undetectable.