Let there Be Light…I Mean, If You Insist

Illuminating“Hope of a Lifetime” by the magnificent acoustic duo The Milk Carton Kids has been speaking to me a lot lately. I’ve been especially drawn to this verse:

“While I pray for Promised Land
To replace all I have made
Darkness steals the light I bear
And the hope of a lifetime fades.”

These lines evoke a three part dynamic that I see running in my life. First, the eponymous “hope of a lifetime.” For me, this hope is the personal movie trailer I’ve had playing in my mind since I was a kid. It changes, of course, as dreams and concepts take on flesh, but basically it’s the snapshots of the future I had imagined for myself. Traditionally this has been a rather busy trailer. If I went on to actually live everything that I’d imagined, my life would be somewhere between Indiana Jones, Fr. O’Malley from Going My Way, and Forest Gump.

The second piece is “all I have made.” For me, this is the life that happened when I’ve missed or otherwise fallen short of “the hope.” Sometimes the effort just wasn’t there. I may have been struck by apathy, melancholy; or I may have been convinced, even temporarily, that life is just work and Netflix, and that’s it. Nothing deeper. Whatever the cause, there were things I had imagined in that movie trailer that never came to pass.

“Darkness steals the light I bear and the hope of a lifetime fades.” This is where it gets interesting. I have cause to hear that line and connect it to my life. Sometimes I get stuck in self-pity and feel like this or that personal circumstance beyond my control robbed me of my chance to live out my hopes. If it weren’t for the darkness, then surely I’d have the life I’d dreamed of.

Yet I am appreciating now that things haven’t gone down that way. Contrary to the what one might presume, it’s not the darkness I find all that scary; in fact, there is a sense in which I meet God there all the more.

Jesus is very light-heavy in the Gospels: he came to the world as light, and we are the light of the world. As a lived reality, I find that can be challenging. Even as my hopes—that little movie trailer that has played in my mind for years—are complicated, darkened, and muddied, I still want to hold on to them like a child to his teddy bear. An open future with many possibilities is part of any young person’s identity. It’s scary then to have the Lord come in, shine a light and say: “This is who you are. This is who you’ll be.”

And this is why the “gift” of discernment isn’t always easy to see as a gift. The more I have felt called to priesthood in the Paulist Fathers, the more I have let go of the same old trailer playing in my mind. To find my life (including an abiding joy and fulfillment) I inevitably have to lose some of the hopes of my lifetime.

Life is awesome and beautiful when it is illuminated. Life is scary for the same reason.