Driving down a suburban street, I saw them half a block away, a father and his daughter – about seven – on their bikes. I was wary as I got closer and, sure enough, she wobbled and swerved ever so slightly into the street. Not far enough that I had to slam on my brakes, but my foot was on yellow alert. He stopped right behind her and I scanned his face as panic erupted and then subsided.
In that passing tableau, I saw every parent’s hopes and fears. What could be better than a bike ride with your child? Quality time, play time, serenity, sharing, a beatific moment. Yet even when so much is right, always in the corner of a parent’s mind or barely beyond it, there’s an anxiety that something could go wrong.
Although out of season, I thought of a line from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Parental hopes and fears meet everywhere, shape-shifting through time and across borders. In West Africa, it’s hope for health and fear of Ebola. In one part of Southern California, it’s hopes for college and fears of failure. In another part of Southern California, it’s hopes for legalization and fear of deportation.
If, as Jesus suggests, God has parental feelings towards us, what are God’s divine hopes and fears: that we will be safe? Secure? Healthy? Joyful? Loved and loving? Fully alive? In Southern California, West Africa, and Bethlehem?
It took only a few seconds to pass the bike mini-drama and the parent’s mini-scare. I prayed that the rest of their day would be a safe series of the countless sacred moments that knit our lives together and make us whole. In those same few seconds they faded from sight in my rearview mirror and passed into memory. But there they stay in the company of all parental hopes and fears, those of Bethlehem, West Africa, and Southern California, those in every human heart, and those in God’s heart.