Yesterday was one of those days. I was struggling with parenting bad behaving toddlers, dealing with some stressful and emotionally challenging issues, and then to top it all off, my 16-month-old pulls a hot cup of tea off the counter and onto his chest. I raced to pull his clothes off, soak his burned skin in cold water, and call the pediatrician.
While driving him to the doctor, I prayed that the burns wouldn’t be too bad and he wouldn’t be in too much pain. Through some tears, I informed God that my emotional tank was officially on “empty” at that moment. As it turned out, there were just some second degree burns that should heal fine. The doctor applied a soothing salve and wrapped a dressing around his shoulders and chest. Within the hour I was buckling (gently) the brave little cookie-in-hand patient back into his carseat.
The drive home was a mix of emotions. I was relieved that this incident wasn’t too bad. My son’s skin would heal. But it happened in a split second. He was fine now, but there very well may be other times when he is not fine…or one of my other kids is not fine…or my husband…or my mom’s alzheimer’s will take that inevitable turn for the worse. I could feel a little bit of spiraling despair mix with my physical exhaustion. It’s guaranteed — tragedy will strike at some point. And though this wasn’t a tragedy, this was one of those scary moments that hint at the pain of probable life experiences to come.
At that moment, while I was pondering this sobering realization with a tear-stained face, I heard clapping. My sweet little boy was clapping and cooing in the backseat. The baby that just had his skin burned off his chest was happy! He was on the other side of his sorrow. And that joyful sound was the God-send that I needed at that moment. That was my sign of hope. It was my gentle reminder that while this world may hold plenty of pain–more for some than others–hope offers us the promise of eternal joy on the other side.
For the Christian, hope is always on the other side of sorrow. When the Christian walks through sorrow, we need not despair; despair is the absence of hope. Jesus said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Despair might be right at our door, threatening to drown out our hope, ready to suffocate any grateful breath we have left. But we don’t have to believe that lie; we don’t have to let it in; Christ has conquered the despair of the world, and “since we have such hope,” in St. Paul’s words, we can “act very boldly” (2 Cor. 3:12). We can boldly respond with gratitude for the hope that we have within us.
In the words of St. John Paul II:
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”