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“Is this just going to keep happening?” my seven year old daughter asked. Her voice caught in her throat. Her eyes were tired from crying. She had had a hard day at school. “Is this just going to keep happening – hard things like this – through my whole life? Even when I’m grown up?”
I could just see the weight of four score years hover ominously over her broken less-than-ten-year-old heart.
So many memories tripped through my mind as I wrapped her little body up in the umpteenth hug of the day. Memories from each of the four decades of my life. Memories of when I had been hurt. Memories of when I had hurt others. And then my head and heart expanded to burning churches and political corruption and famine and war. Right behind or braided in with these memories and thoughts, theodicies and theories of sanctification.
Part of me just wanted to sit with her in the pain and the lament of it all. Part of me just wanted to say, “Yes. It’s just going to keep happening. It never stops. Even when you are a grown up like me. Hard things keep happening.”
And I did say that. And sometimes, in pastoral ministry and in parenting life, this is all one needs to say. Just this, with a hug.
But I kept going… This was a “Yes, and…” moment. “Yes, it’s going to keep happening, and I believe and trust that we learn in and from the things that happen to us. And we learn in and from the things that we do to others. God is with us in those things, and when we are open to learning from God, God grows us and helps us not to make the same mistakes again. I think you are going to learn from this.”
I pray that I did not jump too quickly to the learning, to the sanctification, to the hope. I don’t want her to grow up loving the simplistic lie that everything happens for a reason.
And at the same time, I do want her to grow up believing in the power and possibility of transformation. I do want her to grow up knowing that even though outwardly, we are all wasting away – decade by decade; hard thing by hard thing – inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.
And I do want her to grow up experiencing the truth of what my friend, Erica Schemper, wrote in a reflection on the fire of Notre Dame:
Thus it always is with the Church…sometimes something burns in order to be rebuilt. And sometimes what is new is hard to accept. And sometimes what is new becomes what is most beautiful. And sometimes what is new becomes old. And things burn down, and we start over again.”
Amen. So let it be.