Be not afraid

Life has been hard lately.  And not just one hard providence, but one after another after another.  There are so many areas in my life that are broken right now that I find myself compartmentalizing them, unable to think of them all at once.  Today is a day to pray for this, tomorrow for that, and I will get around to worrying about the third and the fourth at some other time.

Today was the heaviest day of all.  Today we went to a funeral for a child- a dear little child, no older than some of my own sweet children.  And the death of a child- that trumps everything else.  All other concerns and worries and cares- you can’t help but put them aside and deal with this one all-consuming trouble now before you.

As we were driving home from this funeral, eyes still swollen, throat still aching, I was trying not to think of all the things that must happen in our own family soon.  Big decisions concerning my dad and his illness, and how to be a support to my mother and sisters in the difficult days ahead when we are so far away.  How to be a help to so many other friends whom we know are undergoing many other trials.  And then of course, our big move and the project looming on the horizon, a project that has drained so much time and so many resources for so long- a project that, for my own sanity, I just need finished, one way or the other.

I was trying not to think of all this, trying to pray for the family we had just seen mourning the loss of their son, trying to focus on being thankful for what we do have instead of dwelling on what we need.   And then our van died. There In the middle of busy Saturday traffic at one of the busiest intersections of the city, we were suddenly sitting ducks while angry drivers zoomed around us, or honked impatiently as we made them miss green light after green light.  And my husband and I sat and stared at each other, while five children clamored in the back seat, wanting to know what was wrong.

I’m not sure how long we sat there, trying to figure out what to do- it sure felt like an eternity.  But I do know that my first feeling was one of anger- anger that such a long and crappy week had to end in this humiliating way, with my husband taking off his suit jacket and tie and popping the hood to see if there was anything he could do while I tried not to notice all the other passing drivers rubber-necking our situation.

And  then I was worried and afraid.  After all, we need our car, especially since our other car died a few months ago and we have been trying to make do with just one.  We knew the van was on it’s last legs, but I often felt like that van had been our widow’s jar of oil that just kept coming every morning.  And now it had run out.

There was a little despair mixed in there too, a few questions asking myself why we bother to strive and struggle and overcome at all, when things were just bound to get worse. It was as if our van became the proverbial “dead engine” that broke the camel’s back.

But before I could make matters worse by sobbing in front of my children, my husband, and a whole bunch of unhelpful onlookers, an apparition appeared. It was a short man crossing the street and wearing a ten gallon hat and a large, silver, belt buckle worthy of the state of Texas.  He could see that the hubby was trying to figure out how we might push the van backwards and across the next lane into a small parking lot and was willing to help by offering to direct traffic for us.  The boys were immediately interested in this “Yosemite Sam”,  pointing out his long drooping mustache and wondering if he had a couple of six shooters in his belt. (he didn’t)  So as this man masterfully halted traffic (he seemed to be hugely enjoying this power) I slid over into the drivers seat and tried to man handle the steering wheel while daddy pushed.

My faith in humanity slightly restored, I was looking intently over my shoulder, trying to steer, but when I turned back around, there were now two people pushing, and new arrival wasn’t Mr. Texas.  It was actually someone we knew- a friend from church. As soon as we were off the road, Mr. Texas disappeared, but our friend remained- helping us get our car into a safe place and then spending the afternoon shuttling us around to car repair shops and even his own home.  Not only did we need a bathroom, but he saved us from sitting in front of the Tax store, having to watch that ridiculous person in a statue of liberty costume twirl his sign for two hours.  We made it home in the end with a temporary fix, but things are looking pretty bleak for our van, the old dear.

I have now had several hours to think over the day’s (and week’s) events and have come to this conclusion.

I talk big about believing in a sovereign and all powerful God, but my words and actions simply do not show it.  The way I worry and complain, the way I grieve with fear instead of hope, the way I get angry when things do not go my way, you would think my “big God” was smaller than even me.

But as the simple actions of one man turned our afternoon from one of despair to one of hope, so my worry also began to change to a realization that God is big enough to send help, even for a seemingly insignificant little broken down van. I began to see that I don’t like to ask God for help, because I feel sure he is busy with so many more important things.  I take it upon myself to fix my own life, perhaps thinking that I am saving God much time and trouble.  I live in fear of bothering him, since he must be trying to deal with the rest of creation that is groaning so loudly.

And then my anger at our circumstances began to take a proper turn- towards the only entity who could possibly want me to think that God has limits. Surely there is only one power that wants me to forget that God is the God of little things as well as the big. So I shook my fist at the prince of darkness grim, and reminded myself that not a hair falls from my head without the will of my father in heaven. Or as William Cowper magnificently said,

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue, the theme of God’s salvation and find it ever new.

Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say, let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing, but he will bear us through.  Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe his people too. 

Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed.  And he who feeds the ravens will give his children bread. 

Or in stronger language still, from the book of Isaiah-

I, even I, am he who comforts you.  Who are you that you are afraid of man who is made like grass, that you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.  Be not afraid, for I am thy God.  I will strengthen thee.

Who am I indeed that I am afraid, grieving, and tempted to despair.  I have forgotten the Lord my Maker, who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundations of the earth.  I have forgotten the Lord my Shepherd who clothes the lilies and feeds the ravens.  I have forgotten that he holds us and our children and the details of our lives in his hand, even down to the most stubbornly unfinished house or the most erring of old vehicles. And in the forgetting comes the fear.

So I ask for help- help to remember the simple command.  Be not afraid.  

And help to take a big God at his Word.

I am thy God- I will strengthen thee.

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