I’m not sure exactly when it happened. But somewhere in these last few years, there grew within me this unshakable awareness that life is very fragile. This awareness came quite unexpectedly. Almost like someone pulled back the curtain in the middle of act three, throwing off both the audience and the actors on stage. It shook up my young and untested sense of the world. It melted that notion that life will always continue to flow as it always had.
Maybe it was during a community project I did on homelessness in the town I live. I chose to study the question of the young homeless population, particularly focusing on the causes and stories that led to it. The realization that hit me as I spent time around these people is that they are no different than me. The tragedies and shipwrecks of life that they hit were not at all beyond anything that I myself can hit one day. My bank account. My home. My health. My career. None of these things are invincible.
Or maybe it was during that season of life when we had our first baby and I had just started training for my new position in the ICU as a nurse. Through the perfect storm of unexpected recovery challenges, a newborn that would not stop screaming, and the weighty responsibility of caring for people who were connected to tubes and wires coming from every part of their body, I found myself holding on to health and sanity. That ambitious and strong sense of self that had, just a few months earlier accepted the new job and closed on the purchase of a new house, was long gone. The glorious picture of sailing the sunny seas quickly turned to the picture of desperately trying to keep the boat afloat amidst the screaming wind and waves.
Or maybe it was the time our daughter (now sleeping better at night) fell and broke her leg and had to be rushed to a hospital in Mexico at 2 am. Or maybe it was the many times I kept discovering new and ever more complex problems with the house that we had just moved in to, unsure of how to afford and find time to fix them. Or maybe it was a bit of everything put together; that inevitable process of my younger and more innocent sense of life peeling back and giving way to the reality of life and death, pain and suffering, weakness and need.
The simple reality is that life is fragile. Always. We are not in control. We tread through our delicate path of daily life in a universe swirling with billions of factors that are completely outside the bounds of our influence. We do it get to see what awaits us tomorrow morning. We have no power to stop those cancer cells which could this moment be rapidly multiplying in our body because we don’t even know that they are there. Even when we sit on the beach, enjoying the wind and the waves, with not a care in mind, we live on the edge of eternity. Every day, we face the infinite possibilities of pain and suffering in a fallen world. The great challenge in facing this fact is that we don’t know what to do with it. Does it mean that we have to fear whatever may come around every corner? Does it mean that we have to just let loose and forget it all and try to think positive? Does it mean that we need to throw ourselves to the never ending chase of trying to control and guide our lives in the right track?
Deep down we all know that we are breakable. The trouble is that we don’t know how to reconcile ourselves to this fact and yet still keep our sense of hope and confidence intact. What’s the point if all we are waiting for is death itself? Why labor to build our lives if we know that at any moment it can all come helplessly crashing down? We must live with hope and confidence and joy. This is part of any meaningful human life. And yet we must live in a the real world of broken lives and broken hearts. Until we find an answer to this paradox, any joy we experience will always be haunted by a shadow of what could follow.
So what are our options? Though life can take many forms and flavors, in the end it all boils down to a handful of options. The only way to live on the edge of eternity is to live in light of eternity. That is, if eternity does indeed have a light. If I have no real and confident hope beyond the grave, if all I have is wishful thinking and mysterious positive speculation, my whole life here and now is one giant gamble. If the delicate nature of this life is all I have, then I am forever doomed to live in either fear or denial.
Here’s another way to see it – if we are fragile, is there anything that we are connected to which isn’t? Is there any sure footing that we can have in life that comes from outside our weak and delicate self? On this question hinges our sense of hope, purpose and peace. We are either living at the mercy of the impersonal force of the universe, or in the peace and confidence of a God who holds all things. We are either trying to do our best to hold on to control and security, or we have our feet planted in the reality of a real Creator to whom our lives belong. We are either grasping for a reason to stand in the midst of our difficult and conflicted world, or we feed our hearts on the real presence of the One who loves us and directs the flow of our otherwise weak and powerful lives.