On Anticipation and Letting Go
I’m sitting on our deck on a sunny day, and there’s lots of bird activity happening in our backyard. On top of the fence post nearest our gate, there’s a robin’s nest that has been a great source of excitement recently.
Each day, I lift up our two-year-old at least once so he can see the inside of the nest. In the past few weeks, he’s been able to see those beautiful light blue eggs, then the naked hatchlings, then the pre-adolescents begging with open beaks for more earthworm snacks.
A few days ago, in the opposite corner of the yard, I saw a different bird, brownish with white spots, flapping its wings intermittently and having lots of trouble taking flight. Initially I thought it was injured so I walked over to take a closer look. I said a prayer, asking God to heal it—I’m so much more sentimental now that I’m a parent—and when I walked away, I saw an adult robin bring it an earthworm.
This bird wasn’t injured. It was a fledgling learning to fly.
New life is everywhere. Katie and I are about to welcome it into our own home. Our second child, a girl, is due any day now. Our son is genuinely excited about his baby sister. He says he wants to rock her and feed her bottles with milk. He’s only two, so for a while we were suspicious that he knew what was going on, but he really does seem to know. I mean, when Katie drops him off at daycare, he says, “Bye-bye, Mommy. Bye-bye, baby sister,” and then he kisses her pregnant belly.
Katie is now just over 39 weeks pregnant. Our first arrived at 38 weeks, so we just assumed that number two would come early, too. Now we find ourselves with a bunch of time we didn’t think we’d have. We’re living in this beautiful, strange in-between space—a time of waiting, wondering, and hoping.
There are so many unknowns. What will she be like? What will she look like? What will her dynamic be with her brother? What will her dynamic be with us?
Then there are all the worries that come along with labor and delivery. Will her water break, or will she slowly start having contractions? When is it going to happen? Will there be any complications? Will Katie need a C-section?
It’s yet another time in life when I realize just how little control I have over, well, almost everything. It’s hard for me to accept this about life, and it always has been.
But I will say this: since I recommitted to my Christian faith a few years ago—after years of deconstruction—I’m finding it much more tolerable to live with mystery. I’m slowly learning to let go of what I can not and should not control, and to hold more lightly the things I do have and do need.
Much of this has been learned from studying theology, though indirectly. I started a graduate program in theology and ministry at Boston College last year, and part of the reason I did this was to begin to address some of the big, existential questions I’ve had throughout my life.
And only very recently—as in, the past few months—have I begun to realize that digging into Christian theology has only opened up more questions for me.
Years ago, I would be totally frustrated by this. But somehow, taking a leap of faith, as they say, has resulted in this bizarre, unexpected acceptance of the fact that I can’t figure out answers to basic questions, such as, why did God create a world in which evil exists? (Yes, I know all about free will, but still.) And how was Jesus Christ both human and divine? (How in the world can I accept that he was just a regular old human being when he was also God?)
I have learned and absorbed some great educated guesses from some great educated theologians, but at the end of the day, I really don’t know the answers to these questions. No one does.
So why I am better able to simply live with these questions now? I think it’s best said by Yann Martel in his classic novel, Life of Pi:
“To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
Sure, I still have plenty of doubts. I always will. But to me, there has always been something undeniably holy, or sanctified, about so much of this wild world that we live in. I can’t shake the feeling that despite all the horror we see everyday —cheating spouses, teenage girls raped and murdered, a president whose hatred for others fans the flames of racism and sexism, and migrant children separated from their parents and placed in concentration camps — the universe seems ultimately good, and in infinitely mysterious ways, God is with us.
And when we let ourselves sit with mysteries — with the uncertainty of life — we suddenly become able to see in new ways. We notice things we hadn’t noticed before, like fledglings in the backyard, like the fact that doubt is normal and healthy as long as we don’t let it run our lives.
This is why this period of anticipation feels holy to me. I can’t possibly know how it’s all going to go. Yet, despite all the mystery, or maybe even because of it, I know that when I see our little girl’s face for the first time, there will be an extraordinary sense of recognition. I will know, as I’ve come to believe about all of us, that we are for each other.