For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." - Romans 8:15
Do not fear, O Jacob my servant;
do not be dismayed, O Israel.
I will surely save you out of a distant place,your descendants from the land of their exile.
Jacob will again have peace and security,
and no one will make him afraid. - Jeremiah 46:27
Since my children were born, I have endeavored to keep them fearless. When I hear a story about an abduction on TV, I do not keep my children indoors. I do not even instruct them about "stranger danger." When a virus fear spreads through the country, I do not put little masks on their faces. When airplanes were hijacked, I continued to strap them into the seats and fly across the country.
- Airbag malfunction fear? "Load up, kids."
- Fierce dog fear? "Ask the owner if you may pet the dog, then go for it."
- Homeless people outside the city library when we're heading in? "Say hi, be friendly."
- Strangers walking along the alley where my kids play on the playground? "Have fun, kids. I'll leave the door open so I can hear if you need me."
A quick check through the Bible shows 84 times where God or one of his messengers specifically commands a person to "not be afraid" or "fear not" or "be not afraid." In contrast, I found only 13 times when people declared their fearlessness because of God's provision.
We are weak, trembling, spineless creatures. But I didn't want my children to start off that way. I wanted them to live in joy and love with abandon. Elisa has never been afraid of the dark. We taught her to sleep in a dark room from the beginning, and she prefers it. She reads adventure books, climbs trees, plays in creeks, sings and dances like no one's watching. Wilkin is wide open, and runs full-bore into life (and walls). I cannot count how many bloody noses I have doctored. He does not fear pain, bugs, the stage (as long as it's his idea to do the performance), or hard work, especially if someone is showing him how to fix or destroy something.
As they have matured into school-aged children, their fears have grown to include bullies and the critical eyes of their peers. Elisa had a hard time attending school when her face was swollen from poison ivy. Wilkin has refused to wear a perfectly handsome garment because a classmate said it was a "baby shirt."
Everything changed yesterday.
We have heard reports of copperhead snakes around the church building - a rural setting with a creek, playground and wooded acres. In fact, two friends killed a copperhead earlier this summer. Tim's aunt just took her second dog to the veterinarian for to be treated for a poisonous snakebite. That's two dogs in a little under two weeks.
As I work at Living Water during the days, I have been encouraging my children to eschew the DVD player and head outside to play in the creek, catch crawdads and look at salamanders. When I think "idyllic childhood summer," a creek should run through it (not Disney Pixar flicks). I always warn them that if they see a snake, to drop everything (even the paper cups they're using to catch crawdads) and run into the building. I figure there is safety in numbers, however. Wilkin and I were at the church yesterday, and Elisa was at camp. Wilkin requested permission to play in the creek by himself.
Here's the place where I ended my boy's fearlessness, and I mourn for what has been lost.
I told him, "You may play in the creek. But it's different because you're the only child playing in the creek. So, if you see a snake, you MUST drop the cups and run for me. If that snake bites you, I want you to scream as loud as you can and run for me. If you are bitten by a snake, you may not be able to make it back to me. So scream and run. Do you understand?"
My sweet son pushed his fingers up behind his glasses to cover his tears and said, "I'm afraid." And my heart broke. Not because he was crying, but for the loss of his innocence and the fear that I - yes, I - instilled in him.
He did not play in the creek yesterday, but he will next week when his sister is with us. But I know it will never be the same.
Every stage of life is a step farther away from me and more toward independence. Birth is the first "moving out," then there's the first babysitter, going to school, sleepovers, summer camp, college, first apartment, marriage, first home. I want to prepare my children to face each stage fearlessly, not with trepidation. It's a fine line that I'm afraid I crossed yesterday. And I mourn.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields [b] with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.