When I was in 5th grade I remember my sister dating a guy named Joe. I didn’t bother to change his name here, because I’m assuming he keeps tabs on where I live. My parents didn’t want them dating and in an effort to gin up familial opposition, they told us Joe was a criminal. Not just petty theft though; he was stealing kids. My parents warned me never to be alone with Joe because he was a convicted kidnapper. For the next three years, until we moved away to Mississippi, I’d hold my breath as I checked behind the shower curtain and around my bedroom door, inside my closet and underneath my bed for one particular monster: Joe, the kidnapper my sister thought was marriage-material. Middle schoolers are supposed to have outgrown their fear of the dark, moving on to adolescent anxieties like flirting and puberty and making the JV squad. But something about Joe, or the version of him my parents sold to me, left me terrified of the dark.
When I think about the future, about a decision I have to make or a new life-stage or whatever, it reminds me a lot of those days in middle school. Only now, my fear of the dark isn’t manifested in a need for night-lights or bodyguards, it’s apparent in my crippling fear of the Unknown. Quite often, I give it the most authority in my life. Fear isn’t just found in the Unknown, it thrives there. It makes its home, it grows and becomes the monster in my dark, there in the Unknown. We don’t ever see the Unknown as a place of hope, of dreams or possibilities; the only possibilities we give light to are the negative potentials that lead to deeper hurts, darker pains, harder breaks.
And sometimes it isn’t fear that comes with the Unknown. Sometimes it’s anger. It’s not that I’m scared something might happen, it’s that I’m pretty sure something else won’t, and I’m mad about it. A brat about it. I don’t want to go there, so I pitch a fit, throw down my teddy bear and tantrum my way into avoiding my next steps toward the Unknown. If I get mad enough at God or life or “the way it goes” maybe then I can stay put a little longer, in neutral, in a holding pattern that keeps me from doing something I don’t want or think I don’t need, and in the process, I get nothing out of my decision but more of the same. A life devoid of adventure and risk and the rewards that come with the gamble.
Remember when we used to play Hide & Seek? Inherent in the game is an element of the Unknown. Someone hides and we eventually take off after them, having added some mystery with our counting to 100 by tens. We have to hunt in order to discover. Half the fun is in the quest to find each other. In Looking for Alaska, John Green writes about “the Great Perhaps,”—a reference to what could be. I don't think we can realize our future--our Great Perhaps--until we chase down our fears.
So, find adventure. Take risks. Discover the reward of life. Seek life in the authenticity of your fear and anger and disappointment. Realize life in the movement deeper into those places. Press in. Lean in. When your emotions are raw and you’re at your worst, when all you can see in the Dark are your fears and all you can hear in the Dark are your failures, when all you’re confident of in the Unknown is that you’ll hurt worse than you do right now, that you’ll do worse than you’ve done in the past, that you’ll no longer get to have what you wanted for so long—when the Unknown lurks and beckons and taunts you, give it your soul.
Because who decided the Unknown has to be an evil place, even if it is dark? What if the Unknown isn’t just where fear resides? What if it’s where hope is born? What if the Unknown gives feathers and wings to hope and peace and life on the other side of the threshold? What if the Unknown is borne of God, his adventurous way of drawing us into himself more deeply? What if the Unknown isn’t anything to be scared of or mad at or disappointed in? What if shame and fear and anger and sadness are perversions of what really lies in the Unknown: hope.
Isn’t that the point of the story of the exodus? The Israelites are being delivered by Yahweh through Moses and Aaron. They witness plagues and pillars of cloud and fire. Yet when they slam into a sea of hopelessness, with an army of oppression at their backs, they’re faced with the uncertainty of their Unknown. They choose oppression, a return to slavery, to what they’d always known, instead of believing that somehow, beyond all reason, the God of these plagues and pillars of fire and cloud could somehow muster up one more shenanigan. Well, He does. And isn’t that the point of the story? It’s not to prove the historicity of the Bible by searching for Egyptian chariots at the bottom of the Red Sea. It's about Hope vs. Fear. It's about our humanity vs. the supernatural. It's about trusting and hoping that something, anything, even the Unknown, is better than the oppression of our known Present. Hope lies in that dark, scary sea, waiting and ready to part the Unknown into walls of deliverance and adventure.
I have this thing where I fear rejection. I used to think it was a fear of failure, that if I asked people in a better way, then they’d say yes to hanging out or whatever. But I’ve realized it’s not a fear of failing or not asking correctly. It’s a fear of not meeting my expectations. The Unknown trades on expectations. It’s why fear is so powerful and hope seems so unrealistic. Leaning in to the Unknown feels like we’re playing Russian Roulette with our hopes. Why believe when we have no proof? Why get our hopes up if they’ll most likely get dashed? Why believe in something when no one else believes you or in you or for you? GK Chesterton said that hope is “the power to be cheerful in circumstances we know to be desperate.” Maybe we don’t have to be cheerful. Maybe it looks like pursuing our Great Perhaps, or maybe it looks like nothing more than a prayer of resignation. But hope lives in the Unknown. It has to. And it beckons us, it lures us, it begs us to believe, to have the courage to jump, to trust, to hope in our dreams and ourselves and our God.
God is love. I think maybe God is hope, too. And maybe things don’t turn out like we want. Maybe it hurts like Hell, or disappoints us till we can’t cry anymore, or angers us and we pout outside of Nineveh. But our fears don’t limit God or temper his hopes in us. God is for us. Even when we can’t see. Even in the Dark. Even when we are surrounded by Fear. God is there. In the midst of it all. Take heart. Take hope. God is the God of the Unknown.