1.18.2010

It's a Hard Knock Life


Stop the presses: I watched a movie. No, not in the theater: I haven't done that in at least five years. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I was able to see "Crash," the critically acclaimed 2004 movie about an ethnically and socio-economically diverse cast of characters whose pained and charged lives keep on intersecting with each other. It's really quite a haunting narrative, with much to say in particular as it relates to race and class in urban America.

What was striking to me was how tortured and pained each main character's life was, no matter their walk of life. Sandra Bullock is the DA's wife and yet is scared and mistrustful of minorities, and has no friends to speak of. Don Cheadle is a rising cop but his brother is in trouble with the law, and his mother will give him no rest until he finds his brother and makes sure he's OK. Michael Pena is hard-working locksmith trying to get his family to a better life, but endures a flurry of slurs and insults from all of his customers. Bahar Soomekh is trying to make her own living, too, but worries about his shopkeeper father, whose English isn't so great and who is becoming increasingly enraged by people thinking he's Arab or trying to take advantage of him. And so on and so on.

And so it is with our lives. No matter how rich or poor we are, how put-together our families are, how hard we try to safeguard our loved ones and our psyches, life-altering trials do eventually come crashing in. To think otherwise takes a significant amount of denial; to think we can cope, even more.

Amy and I live, in relative terms, a comfortable and easy life: we have the benefit of solid, middle-class upbringings, we are not in want financially, and we have a warm house and two beautiful kids. And yet the sting of life is never too far from us, whether lamenting my mom's debilitated state, or mourning not being able to have biological kids, or worrying over our kids' very real issues and delays.

I am fortunate to have many close guy friends, with whom, in addition to busting each others' chops and arguing about our sports teams, I can confide to about all my business, and be a safe haven for hearing about their business. Having these cherished relationships, where true vulnerability and intimacy can occur, is a necessary counterbalance to life's wounds, and I am grateful for those relationships. But they do not prevent the wounds in the first place; and they can usually only relieve the pain and help put it in perspective, rather than take it away completely.

The promise of heaven if, among other things, one of a place in which there are no more tears and no more pain. If we have deluded, insulating, or medicated ourselves from tears and pain, that promise does not compel. But if our tears and pain are very real, if we are anguished as we bear our own and those of others, if we yearn for true relief, then heaven again seems like, well, heaven.

People have told me before that they respect and admire my faith, for they see that its fruit is in being a refuge and anchor for me during life's trials. I appreciate the sentiment and don't want to reject the compliment, but I must say it is giving me far too much credit. It is a compliment that would give too much credit to anyone.

For no one can stand up to the vagaries of life. Having faith in something outside of and bigger than yourself is a good start, but it cannot suck the venom out when life stings you. When life comes crashing into me, my assurance is not in the strength of my faith, but rather in the strength of the One in whom I place my faith.

I recently caught up with a dear friend, who asked me a very good and thought-provoking question about whether I worry about raising my kids in such a dangerous and mine-filled time. I had to confess to her that I could not in good faith give her the canned answer, which is that I trust that God is bigger than any peril my kids could face. Sometimes I doubt that.

Scratch that: sometimes makes it feel like my uncertainty is a relatively uncommon occurrence. Rather, the majority of time, I wonder if my kids will be OK. I know I should focus on Him who keeps the little ones safe, but more often than not, I focus on the dangers (and that they will overtake my kids, as they have overtaken the kids of friends and colleagues of mine who are far more decent than I am) or on myself (and that either I can be vigilant enough to hold the demons at bay, or that I accept I cannot and am therefore terrified of what will happen).

I think it is because we are adoptive parents, although I think it is also because of our inherent temperament and our own weaknesses and limitations, that Amy and I see parenting not so much as a mother and father bear protecting their cubs, but as stewards of two precious lives. God has entrusted them to us, and it is a mighty responsibility, and I worry almost constantly, because they are vulnerable and I am not invincible.

But at the end of the day, I return to the fact that it matters not the strength of my faith, but rather the strength of the One in whom I place my faith. And so I am comforted that the One who has given Amy and me the responsibility to tend to the childhoods of these two little ones has also given us His promise to work with us to safeguard the intended trajectory of their lives from dangers that would push them off course.

And so it is with our own lives, as well. As we have been given kids to steward, so we have been given our own lives to steward. Those lives are equally filled with strengths and deficits, with promise, with value and meaning. And we are equally not up to the task, equally vulnerable to life crashing into us, and us having to deal with the wreckage for the rest of our lives.

It's a hard knock life out there. I am too weak to bear it on my own, and my faith in something bigger and greater than me is similarly insufficient. But the One in whom I place my faith is bigger and greater than the deficiencies in my defenses and the gaps in my faith. And He has promised a place in which His salve is no longer needed, for the sting of life has been removed once and for all; in which His defenses are no longer needed, for anything that can come crashing into our lives has been convincingly vanquished; and in which faith is no longer needed, for faith is being certain of what we do not see, and in heaven we shall be able to clearly see the One in whom we have placed our faith.

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