My parents always shouted two things whenever I walked out the door. “Be safe!” and “I love you!”
“Be safe!” because the world inherently isn’t.
“I love you!” because what if those were the last words I would ever hear from them.
I grew up in a bubble. I don’t blame my parents. Their fear-tinted glasses framed the world as a scary and dangerous place. It is.
But anxiety has threaded through my family like stitches on a quilt; one after the other, perfectly spaced, each generation gripping life a little tighter.
My great-grandmother worried herself into a life that ended forty years before her death, as she sat and rocked away the years in her faded blue recliner.
Her son, my grandfather, had an iron-fist and a soft heart. I see tears in his eyes when I tell him, “I love you,” even if he’s spent the last few hours telling me that my cat might smother my baby and myriad other superstitions.
His daughter, my mother, is my best friend. But I can never shake the fact that she always seemed to parent from a place of fear, not faith. From seeing the world as primarily scarce and harsh, not abundant and good.
Of course, I grew up expecting the worst. “Be safe, because the world isn’t. Be safe, because something bad might happen. Be safe, be safe, be safe.”
We said, wrote, texted and prayed, “Be safe,” as if those six little letters would ward off evil like hanging garlic to keep away vampires.
I vowed to be different; I would step out of the family line of anxiety and claim a different frame for my world. I believed, as Frederick Buechner said of the world, “beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.”
Then it happened: I got married, and my good bye to my husband each morning became, “Be safe. I love you!”
The first time I said it, I think he brushed it off. The next time, he laughed.
“Why do you say, ‘Be safe’?”
“Because what if you die in a car wreck on your way to work?”
He almost couldn’t believe it. Who lives their life wondering if, every single day, the car might crash?
I expect the worst.
I don’t trust God to ever give me the best.
I have trouble reconciling passages like Psalm 91 with my experience. I am tempted not to believe them, to not believe that God would follow through that “no harm will overtake you; no illness will come near your home ”
I don’t expect them to be true. I’ve seen cancer win too often, babies die, marriages break. Harm overtakes us. It just does.
But here is what I know. God and the world that he created is good, but the world splintered at the fall, and it groans for a re-creation, for the return of Christ.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Romans 8 shows the dissonance between fear and hope. We can’t expect Eden, but we also can’t expect hell on earth. Expecting the worst dims our experience of God’s creation. I can never fully enjoy the gift of my daughters if I live in constant paralysis that something bad will happen to them. But I can’t pretend that everything will always be perfect.
I have to focus my expectations on the only thing I can count on—the Father, Son, and Spirit. That is where my hope lies.
Cover image by Alice Wu.