“Daddy, it’s a very fallen world.”
Almost 30 years ago my daughter Eden and I hiked up Sugarloaf, an innocently-named mountain above Bear Trap Ranch in Colorado. Though I can’t remember, it may have been her first real hike. On the way down, seeing all there was to be seen, she was burdened by the fallenness of the world around her. Broken branches and broken trees, everywhere she looked.
Hiking the same trail with Meg this week, I remembered Eden’s comment, and I thought about the years of her life since then. Parents do a delicate dance trying to protect their children from the wounds of the world, while at the same time we want our children to learn to live in the world, fallen and broken as it is. Doing the two at the same time is awfully hard.
I thought about the summer she spent in Kenya, working in a medical clinic in the bush, hours from any city, and seeing people die. And about the next fall, the months she spent studying international health and development in Geneva, Switzerland, beginning to understand that what she had seen the previous summer was a microscopic view of macroscopic problems.
And about her first job after college, working for the Protection Project at the School for Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, assigned the grisly task of writing up the reports of sex trafficking in every nation on earth. And about the months she spent in Romania, offering glad service in a deeply cynical society, where the street wisdom was that every person you met believed that they “had already been screwed.”
And about the years she spent in the L’Abri community, first as a student and then as a worker, asking honest questions, giving honest answers, in a place named “the shelter,” as there is so much fallenness falling on all of us. And about her years studying healthcare, especially for those who are medically-underserved. And about her years of working in the D.C. public health system, with brokenness the story all day long.
That is a limited telling of the tale of her life. She also spent years studying ballet, pretty seriously, and she danced with delight. She has been a good friend to her friends, steady and compassionate over time, loving and being loved. She has loved the heart of her work, listening to people, doing her best to help them heal. And she has found a good man to marry, and she has great pleasure in him.
Glory and ruin run through everyone’s life; in fact they are our life. All day long, all year round.
It is one thing for a four-year-old to see the brokenness of the world, and be overwhelmed by it. But how about the rest of us? When we’re 25 or 55 or 85, can we make sense of the wounds of the world, and still live?
Holding together both heartache and happiness is the hardest thing in the whole world, but it is the vocation of Everyman and Everywoman. My own reading is that those who keep on keeping on are always and everywhere people who form the habits of heart that enable them to take up the sorrows of the world, and by strange grace still love the world. There are no exceptions.