Easter is a difficult season for me. It has been since my junior year of college, when depression reared its ugly head in my life and showed itself in the form of self-harm. Since then, Easter has had a dark undertone, the day becoming a constant reminder of the pain and struggle I have been through. But in the years following college, that pain began to heal and I began to see the beauty and joy of the Easter season. I tried to live into that beauty and fill my life with it. I grasped hold of the joy of the Easter season and celebrated.
These past few years, that pain has resurfaced in a new way. As spring arrives with blue skies, budding flowers, and pleasant breezes, I am left feeling empty. On Easter Sunday, as I watch parents lead their children into church, I cannot help think to myself “That should be us.” I sit next to my husband and wish there was a little one in my own arms. As my husband goes to the pulpit to lead the church in prayer, I wish it was our baby crying out for all to hear. What I would give to have a baby who made a ruckus in church! What I would give to have a baby at all.
In this season of new life, I struggle to find hope. I know that Easter is meant to be a season of hope – a season of hope for new life, hope for new opportunities, hope for new possibilities. But I have felt that hope before, and all it has left me with is pain, heartbreak, and frustration. As time has passed, I have begun to fear that hope.
Three times, I have felt that new life in my body. Three times, my husband and I have celebrated that new life. We have filled our days wondering what that new life will be like. We have dared to dream what our lives will be like. Three times, that hope has departed, and we have been left with only pain, heartbreak, and fear for the future.
Where is the pain and heartbreak in the season of Easter? Where is the fear and worry? Surely that day was not just full of excitement and celebration. Is there a place for my pain at Easter? Is there a place for my fear?
A week before Easter, I found myself reading through the Bible’s tellings of Jesus’ resurrection. As I read the stories, I found that the first reaction of the people who heard of Jesus’ return was not excitement, but fear. I understood that fear. There is much to be feared in new life. But in the Gospel of Matthew, the reaction of the women who discovered that the tomb was empty and Jesus was risen, made me stop with wonder.
After hearing from the angels that Jesus was risen, Matthew described the women as having “fear and great joy.”
“Have you ever felt fear and great joy at the same time?” a friend asked as we discussed the passage.
Instantly, I realized that I had. Fear and joy was seeing the plus sign on a pregnancy test only a few months after losing your unborn child. Fear and joy was laying with your husband’s arms wrapped around your belly, praying that child will survive. Fear and joy was months after a second loss when you begin to hope again for a child. Fear was the thought of becoming pregnant again. Joy was the thought of becoming pregnant again.
When we celebrate Easter today, we focus so much on the joy of the disciples and Jesus’ followers upon learning that Jesus had returned. But the disciples were not only filled with joy. They were filled with pain in remembering that he had once left them alone and afraid. They were filled with hope for what the future might bring. They were filled with fear for what Jesus’ return meant.
It is okay to fear hope. It has taken me a long time to understand and accept that. When a third child formed inside me, I struggled to hope. I did not want to be excited. I knew what hope meant. It meant loss. It meant pain. It meant sadness. I asked others around me to carry that excitement for me, until I could hold it again. And for a brief time, I was able to hold onto that hope and excitement. I was able to find joy in the new life growing inside me. I was able to set my fear aside and celebrate.
I do not know what it will be like when the next child joins our life. I do not know if I will be filled with joy or fear. But I do know that either reaction is okay. It is even okay to feel both at the same time.
There is a place for our pain in this season of hope. There is a place for our fear. When we are ready, we can even hold them alongside our joy, and know that we are not alone in the fear of what hope will bring.