Each month, our Moms of Preschoolers group calls on one person to deliver a devotion about a topic of her choice. After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the increase in calls for more people to arm themselves against potential threats, fear was the topic on my heart and mind.
Note: The “what-ifs” listed here are not all my personal fears. I intended these to speak to the fears of my audience.
A couple of weeks ago I was in the car with two of my daughters, and somehow the topic of fear came up. “I’m not afraid of anything,” declared my four-year-old, but quickly paused. “Well… except tigers.” Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I laughed. Tigers? This isn’t a child growing up in the Indian jungle. Tigers pose absolutely no danger to her whatsoever. It seemed like a silly, kind of arbitrary fear. Some kids are afraid of scary dogs, or spiders, or bad guys. Things you might actually encounter here in suburban South Carolina. But, silly or not, our conversation got me thinking.
What are you afraid of? What what ifs are swimming around in your head?
What if… my family’s financial stability crumbles? What if my spouse loses his job? What if one of us has an unexpected health issue?
What if… I never lose the baby weight? What if I never again love my body the way I did before I had children?
What if… I have a miscarriage? What if I can’t get pregnant again?
What if … my children are bullied at school? What if they are the bully? What if they choke on a hot dog I failed to cut into small enough pieces? What if my teenager texts and drives? Or drinks and drives?
What if … someone wants to hurt my child?
There are a lot of what-ifs. And while I think I do a pretty good job of keeping my fears at arm’s length most of the time, they’re there, and they’re real.
Fear is powerful. It keeps us up at night, sometimes, but more often it holds us back from becoming the people that God wants us to be. Back in the fall, Kelly Pfeiffer, who spoke at one of our meetings, talked about our instinctual fight or flight response when faced with stressful situations. When we feel afraid, our response is to run away from the problem, to freeze in indecision and avoidance, or to lash out in an attempt to protect ourselves and our families. Think about this. How Christ-like are these responses?
Do you remember the story about Jesus calming the storm? “37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Harsh words. But I love this story. I think about the disciples, who were imperfect, just like us. The storm came up, and like any rational person would, they feared for their lives. The danger of capsizing was very real. And yet, here’s the Messiah, in the boat right beside them. The savior of the entire world – as these men believed him to be – was right there, and they still were afraid.
Here’s what this story says to me: It doesn’t matter who you are, or how strong your faith is. It doesn’t matter if the physical body of Jesus Christ is literally sitting next to you. Humans are creatures of instinct. Fear is going to happen. So the expectation isn’t that we will shed all fear, that we will live a life free of anxiety and worry. I think that what Jesus wants is for us to trust Him enough to follow him through the fear, and to see what’s on the other side.
I’d like to give just one example from my own life. When I was twenty-two, I was living in St. Louis. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I walked through the park across from my apartment to go get a coffee from a nearby cafe. I was talking on my phone, not really paying attention to my surroundings, when three men stepped out from behind the stone archway that marked the entrance to the park. They were trying to steal my bag. One of them yanked it, trying to get it off of me, but the strap wouldn’t break. I went skidding across the sidewalk, my phone flew out of my hand, and I just screamed in rage as I reached for the nearest man’s ankle, wanting nothing more than to trip him. Gosh, I was angry. After a kind stranger (let’s call him a good Samaritan) pulled over to help me, and the men walked away into the park, and I had called the police- that’s when the fear really hit. And I admit, it took some time for me to feel safe again.
For a while, when I would pass a man on the street who looked like the ones who mugged me, my pulse would race. I would fight the impulse to cross to the other side of the street to avoid him. I had to make a conscious decision that I would not be afraid of every stranger I came across. I cannot love my neighbor if I also fear him. And Jesus wants me to love him, every time.
To bring this back to what this means for us as parents, I consider what it must have been like for my mom when I called her, hysterical, to tell her what happened. She knew when I moved there that St. Louis had some dicey areas, and she’s a pretty anxious person anyway. (Probably because she’s a mom.) Still, I don’t think she wanted me to walk around afraid all the time, even after this incident. None of us wants that for our kids. In fact, when they are afraid, we don’t encourage their fear, do we? We try to make it better. Our Lord and Father, he doesn’t want that for our children either. He doesn’t want that for any of his children. And guess what – that includes us.
Fear does not prevent calamity. Fearing for our children does not mean that they will never come to any harm. So I think the best we can do, as women who profess to follow Jesus, is to ask ourselves if our fear is bringing us closer to God. I can tell you that for me, the vast majority of the time, the answer is no.
The phrase “Do not be afraid” appears 67 times in the Bible. (The word fear appears 515 times.) For me, that’s proof that God knows how often we need to be reminded.
“Do not be afraid,” he says, “I am your shield.”
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
“Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”
“Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”