Once upon a time I got stuck up a tree.
In fact, I’m lying. It was more than once. It’s actually an embarrassingly familiar scene; cowering over the edge of some rope swing situation, while a queue of kamakazi nutcases tut with impatience, and some well-meaning “encourager” offers decreasingly encouraging encouragement. (I honestly don’t care how secure the harness is people- it’s just not natural!) Of course, once I reached my mid-twenties I assumed that these kind of experiences were behind me. I mean, I’d had to differentiate lessons for kids who were scared of pencils; no one was going to cojole me up a tree. No one, of course, except an over-enthusiastic manager with a team building exercise…
The long and short of it is, I got half way round a tree-top assault course when the ropes disappeared and I found myself on a tiny platform facing the open-aired abyss. Having made it so far, there was nothing to do except jump (and dangle and claw at the air like a dyspraxic spider monkey, epically failing at Total Wipeout)… OR cling to the tree and be manually removed by a trained instructor. Naturally, I went for the latter. Which was brilliant, except that he took so long getting to me that a group of small children had to physically climb over me to continue their adventures. I don’t know what was worse; the apologetic giggling as they clambered around my derrière; the mingled expressions of pity and pride on the faces of their adults; or the sheer disappointment of my poor, defeated manager.
Not my finest hour.
In my defence, however, I do have other courage. As a teenager, I travelled the world with a girl I’d met twice. In recent years, I took a group of young people with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties on a 30 hour flight to Africa. What’s more; I brought them back. I’m a massive people-person; performer, facilitator, host. And you know what? I used to be terrified of needles and blood until I pushed two significantly sized humans out of a tampon holder. I have other courage!
None of it, however, seems to have prepared me for the fear that took hold when I became a mother. I don’t know if it was hormonal to begin with, or if it’s just something that happens to all parents the moment the weight of responsibility hits us; but I remember it vividly. Three days after Toddler arrived, I woke up in a panic; suddenly aware of all the hideous things happening in the world and even more aware that I couldn’t possibly protect her from all of them.
Never mind the crying… how was I ever going to sleep at night again?!
Now, often this fear is rational; a precursor for wisdom, forethought and common sense. However, it’s also often irrational; restrictive, unhealthy, crippling. I remember one particularly ridiculous bout on an uneventful walk to Tesco with the pram; my imagination ran wild and I swear if there’d been a bomb shelter I would have sat in it. (You know, because if I was a budding jihadist with one shot to give, I’d definitely go for that spot outside the undertakers on the longest high street in the world with no shops…) That is the curse of the fear and I’ve been struggling with it a lot lately. As conversations about curacy begin, the prospect of moving away from our safe training bubble and into the great unknown is, quite frankly, terrifying. Although some of this fear is useful, (it drove me to run an information evening for clergy parents, which I’ll write about another time), it is also effecting everything that I am, believe and stand for… And that’s not even the type of parent I want to be, never mind the person.
I’ll be honest, this post has been three weeks in the making. I’m only now coming to the conclusion that there’s a big difference between being afraid of something and living in fear; between letting a little caution drive us forward, and allowing this overwhelming fear to hold us back. I’m also realising that while neither of these options particularly honour God, the latter part actually dishonours Him. For if we allow ourselves to be gripped and imprisoned once more by the fears of this world or even our own shortcomings, we pretty much signify that those things are still bigger and more powerful to us than God Himself. The Bible says: “Do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as Holy, He is the one you are to fear.” (Isaiah 8). In archaic terms, this word fear means to revere; to stand in awe. So, while to fear God is to appreciate fully the enormity of who He is; to fear anything less is to give it undue power over us. For, even after reminding us how awesome God is, that same passage goes on to contain some of the most famous verses of hope ever written; “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light… For unto us a child is born; to us a son is given… And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That child was born at Christmas, died on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Sunday; proclaiming victory over everything that can hold us back from God. He said, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16). The very same God that we should fear has given everything to reconcile our souls to Him; the One who judges all eternity has sacrificed everything to make us clean. That’s not to say we won’t see darkness in this life, but it is to say that it has no power over us. In the grand scheme of things, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8).
John wrote that “perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4)
That perfect love is greater than any fear our hearts can hold.
So that perfect love encourages us to
Just. Let. Go.