Words of Hope: A Life of Peace or Fear
I have a dreadful notion that arises now and then of God as a punisher. As soon as it comes, I remember one of the most consistent messages in the Bible, “Do not fear.” There are many different forms of the same message. Be brave, let your heart take courage, do not be afraid, do not be dismayed. All these messages point me back to living with courage. One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen writes, “It is so important for the people around you to see that peace of Christ reflected in your eyes, your hands, and your words. There is more power in that than in all your teaching and organizing.” This is my work… To be brave, to fear not, to allow the peace of Christ to rule in my heart.
As I focus on a heart of peace, I consider what fears are the most tempting for me. The safety of my children is high on the list. I imagine it is a top concern of any parent. This is a tough time for kids. I don’t know that my parents held fear about my safety the way I do about my daughters. Mostly because the news is so incredibly graphic and unrelenting. We have more access to stories of violence and the gratuitous nature of the violence is sobering. If Dad were here, I would call him up and say, “Hey Dad, what do you make of the level of violence the news is showing? What do you think is the most prudent balance between vigilance as a parent and peaceful trust?”
I know what Dad would say. He would point me back to scripture. First, he would ask me where my help comes from. Is it in the Find My Phone app to check where my girls are? Is it in pepper spray, locks, or self-defense? He would remind me of the beautiful promises of the Psalms. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and enemies stumbled and fell. What a violent line, “devour my flesh.” Shocking! Even in this extreme situation, Psalm 27 tells me, “My heart will not fear.”
I think of how many times I imagine my girls to be in peril only to find out they are fine. This was the magical thinking of my grandmother, a professional worrier. She believed if she foresaw the danger then somehow, she could thwart the danger and it wouldn’t come to fruition. Her first son died of jaundice which is now a treatable illness. Is it any wonder she wished she had the ability to foresee the danger and find a solution?
Dad would recommend I have a choice to make when I get worried about possible pain arriving in my future. I can pursue the fearful assumption and worry as my generations have done or I can intentionally choose peace. Nouwen would tell me that my writings, my disciplines, all these are not as important to my children as the discipline to have the peace of Christ reflected in my eyes, my hands, and my heart. This requires a new rewiring of past habits. This requires a new understanding of God and suffering as well as my own role in it. This requires me to suspend the image of God as punisher, as suffering connected to wrongdoing or lack of vigilance, of believing that the evil in this world can be overcome by my own power. Peace is a choice, and my children need me to make this choice more than they need me to worry about their safety.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. – Psalm 121:1-8