My daughter entered the world in a season of darkness.
In a way, every single orbit around the sun has its fair share of darkness. Every year has its blights, its own particular daunting evils. But the past years have had a distinct heaviness to them. Trucks driven through crowded streets, intent on mowing down human lives like so many weeds. Beheadings. Toddlers lying face down in the sand, innocent little lungs flooded with salt water. Shootings. Cancer—such relentless cancer. A friend’s baby born into the world without a beat in her little heart. A presidential campaign that would make a thick-skinned cynic of any party wonder how it came to this. Aleppo. A blood-stained boy with tired, empty eyes, covered in grime, sitting on a plastic chair. Darkness.
Yet we named our daughter Hope.
Why would anyone choose to hope? There is no proof, no certain proof, that this will all end well, the ends tied up, the brokenness mended, the darkness beaten back and bound up forever.
Perhaps it’s all a big joke on us, a divine comedy with a bit of Coen brothers humor. Maybe we’re just being played for fools.
Not two years ago, I sat across my kitchen table from my friend and listened as she said, “It’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s obvious he’s real. But I just don’t know that I believe he’s kind or good. Are we just pawns in some cynical game?” She had walked through that Dark Valley of Death, had seen sickness wrap itself around someone she loved and wring the life out of them, slowly and painfully. And now? How do you trust God to be kind when he’s letting your heart break? When he’s strong enough to save, but chooses not to. I nodded. I’ve wondered that too. Hasn’t everyone?
One of my favorite literary passages comes from The Return of the King. The shield maiden, Éowyn, has just lost her uncle, sent her brother and all of her friends off to face a seemingly unstoppable evil, and is forced to remain behind due to injury. She feels helpless and despairing. Depression is threatening to overwhelm her. But as she remains in the Houses of Healing, the Steward’s son, Faramir, falls deeply in love with this valiant, brokenhearted woman. As they stand on the city walls, looking toward the East where their fate hangs, Éowyn says, “’Then you think that the Darkness is coming . . . unescapable?’ ” And Faramir replies, “ ‘No. . . . The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days. But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny. Éowyn, Éowyn, White Lady of Rohan, in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!’”
And we named our baby girl Hope.
She was born in the darkest point of a stormy summer night. As I labored on my bedroom floor on my hands and knees in the darkness, sweating and hurting and wondering if it would all end, my midwife asked, “Is there anything that you’re afraid of? Any reason you’re not able to let go and let her come?”
Because fear does that to us. It tightens us up and chokes out life. But hope, that twin sister of courage, accepts the uncontrollable, lets go of the fear and waits, believing there is light ahead.
And my Hope was born — amidst the work of surrendering and striving and letting go and holding on. Life carries on in much the same way that it begins. Minutes after she drew her first breath, the dawn broke and the storm gave way to sunlight.
Even Saint Peter said, “Lord, where else would we go? Only you have the words of life”(John 6:68). Sometimes hope is a choice, perhaps even the only choice. If we don’t hope in the Light, we surrender to the darkness; but this is the promise: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). I can’t explain away the darkness. I can’t measure it or eliminate it, or some days even bear it. But that was never my job. The Great Light is the One who defines the boundaries of the darkness. He is the One who is never overcome.
After all, isn’t the battle cry of the believer, “I will fear no evil!” Not, “I will see no evil” or “I will encounter no evil.” But “I’ve seen the evil lurking in that valley, but I am not afraidbecause he is with me.” We are the believers. Not the see-ers or the know-ers or the have-proof-ers. The believers, holding on to the hope that goodness and mercy are following hard after us, and in the end, we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”(Psalm 23:6).
Even—or especially—when “the reason of my waking mind” says the darkness is interminable, my heart says, “No.” The darkness will one day be undone, “everything sad [is] going to come untrue,” and every broken thing be made whole.
In the meantime, until the Light erupts and drives out the darkness, I’ll hope on.