You don’t know this, but I take medicine every day. It’s not for my nose like yours, it’s for my brain. By the time you read this, you’ll understand a little bit better what that means, but let’s just say that I’m scared all the time and the medicine makes me not so scared. At least, I can tell which things are REALLY scary and which just SEEM scary. Some things that present themselves as terrors turn out to be just jackets hung over chairs in dim light, but you don’t know that until morning. And a lot of life is like that—as you get older and smarter, you see things as they really are.
But some things will always be scary, and you just have to be brave.
I’ve been thinking about this because recently you’ve been wrestling with your own fears. Some of them are old and familiar, like the fear of the vacuum or of going to the doctor. And some of them are new, like the balance beam thing at the park that may or may not hold you. And I can tell when you’re scared, because you have a telling phrase you use: “nothing’s gonna happen.”
You learned this phrase from me that time we went to visit Chelsea and you encountered her King Charles Spaniel. An affectionate, energetic, curious dog—she was a little much for you. Eventually, you would retreat to my lap or run across the room when you saw her, often just in time before she bounded up to you for those too-hard dog kisses. And I would put one hand on you and one hand on the dog and say, “Andrew, don’t worry. I’m here, nothing’s gonna happen. She’s a sweet puppy, she won’t hurt you.” So when she got close, you would look at me with anxious eyes and say, “Nothing’s gonna happen?” Yes, I would remind you, nothing’s gonna happen. I’m here.
The other day you woke up with what I thought was pink-eye. So we went to the doctor. Our pediatrician walked into the room, amiable as ever, smiling and giving high-fives and letting you hold the light-thing. But it didn’t matter. You knew what he was all about…shots. And no matter how many times I told you we would NOT be getting a shot, you couldn’t quite make yourself believe it. And while the doctor and I were talking about your eyes and your allergy medicines and insurance, your brave facade finally shattered and you started to cry. It was the most awful thing to see—you sitting up there on the exam table in the brightly-painted room, wearing your shorts and polo shirt and tears just dripping. “Nothing’s gonna happen,” you said, shaking your head back and forth, eyes squeezed tight against the “nothing” that might happen. “Nothing’s gonna happen!” And nothing did happen, except that it turned out you didn’t have pink-eye and we spent 30 minutes in the Walgreens drive-thru for no reason.
(While we were in that drive-thru, you started a wordless tantrum of screeches. Then, when the screams were over, you yelled out one word: “Screamin’!” Yeah, dude, I get it…screamin.)
This new development has me as perplexed as any other, because although it’s adorable to hear you repeat things, and it’s helpful to know when you’re anxious, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve misled you. Because, my love, something MIGHT happen. Something is always happening. Nobody ever promised us otherwise.
This is the sort of thing I can’t tell you because you’re a baby. But if I did, it would sound like this: “Don’t say ‘nothing’s gonna happen’, because something ALWAYS happens, that’s how life goes. In fact, Jesus said that bad things would happen to you, and all sorts of awful stuff happened to the disciples and the early Christians (the Storykeepers are always ending up in prison or under threat of execution), and you’ve seen people get sick and suffer and you know that in the end everybody dies. These sorts of things test us and refine our faith and are the result of living in a fallen world. Don’t worry, Jesus will get you through it and Jesus has your back…unfortunately we won’t know THAT for sure until we die, but my fingers are crossed.” Inspiring, I know.
When people tell me about things they fear, or start wringing their hands over a possibility, my first instinct is to break down the fear into manageable pieces and explain why it isn’t possible, or won’t be that bad, or isn’t inevitable, or won’t kill you. Sometimes that’s helpful and sometimes it isn’t.
When I was defending you from the embraces of the puppy, I meant what I said—nothing’s going to happen. Of course what I meant was, nothing bad is going to happen. Specifically, you’re not going to get bitten. But now that I think about it, I didn’t know that 100 percent. I mean, I was like 87% sure, but what if you were the hallmark of terror to that dog? What if it had a vendetta against adorable boys in Star Wars shirts? What if you stepped on it and it was acting in self-defense?
You see what I’m saying? The “what if this” sort of thought process is toxic and exhausting, a way of distracting you from your life and making you fight imaginary werewolves when the real-life puppy is just sitting there in front of you. But the “nothing’s gonna happen” isn’t true—or might not be true. And so instead of either of these, we have to live in the truth and face our fears as they come. We can’t hide from them and we can’t try and predict them.
So what DOES Jesus say?
Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow because each day has enough problems. He was right, of course. But he also said that in this world we would have problems. Those aren’t comforting statements—basically, he said we’d have problems every day and that we shouldn’t freak out. Ok, done.
The world is full of Christians praying to Jesus and trying to trust Him and be brave. Some of them are in doctor’s offices and some are in prison. Some are in combat and some are in high school. Many of us are just mothers and fathers who have to take medicine so our brains work correctly and we can be brave about ordinary things.
And what is bravery? I’m not sure, because it really isn’t a feeling. Bravery is just doing something you’re scared of. Facing the dog and looking the vacuum cleaner in the eye or whatever. For Mommy, it’s driving on highways…you can’t see my face when I’m driving, but I’ve found that if I just grip the wheel and look forward, the fear becomes courage—there’s nothing else for it to become, because I have to keep moving. Once, I faced a great and terrible fear—the fear that I would die when you were born. And I faced it by falling asleep and committing it all to Jesus. And strangely, the fear went away. Instead I got peace. I can’t explain HOW it works, but it DOES work.
When we watch the Easter Storykeepers and see Jesus carrying the cross, you always say “Jesus, so brave.” The first time you watched that scene I got so choked up that was all I could say. Remember the man on the cross, the brave one. The Storykeepers are brave, and the real-life Storykeepers—Christians in North Korea and Iran—are brave too, and I’m sure they cry and feel terror rise up in their chests, and I’m sure they tell themselves that nothing’s gonna happen. But mostly I think they just pray. They know what could happen. They’ve always known.
But that isn’t you…not today. Each day has its own troubles, and your troubles are vacuums and shots and time-out. Let’s deal with them. You’re braver than I thought—rather than crying when you saw the vacuum this morning, you looked at it head-on and asked, “vacuum cleaner?” You didn’t take your eyes off it; it didn’t try anything.
Why such bravery all of a sudden? Because I was physically between you two? Because nothing’s happened so far? Or just because fears wax and wane as you get older, like the light in a room that turns a terrifying crouching monster into a sweater draped over a chair…
Anyway, all I can do is promise you this… the same thing Pop Pop told me when I asked him about what if a tornado tore the roof off, which I repeated to a little boy after a lockdown drill. If something comes after you, it has to get through me first.