I wish I could go back a couple of weeks and tell a slightly younger version of myself to “hold on, things are about to get really hard and really weird.” Well, if I’m wishing, I would go back a little further and warn a much younger girl of so many things. Most importantly that boys and Georgia football will break her heart. I’d watch that youthful version of me laugh when I tell her that she’s gonna marry a musician, move to Nashville and stop eating meat. We’ll talk about the children, the good times and bad. Then, I’d tell her to be brave.
But, that’s not how life works. We don’t always get a warning when life is about to swing a gut punch. We don’t always get to prepare…or say goodbye…or buy the toilet paper.
I didn’t know two weeks ago that my family would weather a tornado and my community would be destroyed. I didn’t know that a friend from long ago would pass away unexpectedly. And, I certainly didn’t know we would soon be facing national lockdown because of COVID-19.
I didn’t know.
There’s just so much happening right now. The news is so fast and also so slow. Nothing feels safe or certain. There are so many words and yet no one is saying a thing. As a healthcare provider, I want to get on a horse like Paul Revere and beg everyone to take this seriously, go home and guard the grannies. As a mother, I’m heartbroken for my children who’s normal has been so violently uprooted. My heart sank tonight as my children asked why I have to go to work when everyone is instructed to stay home.
While preparing for work each morning, I don’t know if I need to drink a gallon of holy water or a gallon of bleach. Disclaimer: that’s a joke…never drink bleach. I would think this is a given, but with some of the conspiracy theories I’ve read regarding this virus, I will clarify. Drinking bleach is bad…don’t do it, but if you have holy water I’ll take it, bathe in it and gulp it down.
In all seriousness, I’ve worked in healthcare for almost 20 years and this is unprecedented. Am I afraid? Well, fear comes in waves, overwhelming waves.
I’ve struggled with the word fear because I’m not panicked and I haven’t raided the stores for toilet paper…yet. I’m confident in my healthcare team. I’m hopeful the restrictions will slow this train. I’m moved by the strength of my community during the recent tornado. And yet, there it is again…fear.
In this fearful time, I’ve thought a lot about my children and how I don’t want them to live in fear nor do I want them to see me live with a fearful spirit. That longing reminded me of a sweet ritual that I share with my children.
About a year ago, my husband and I were going out of town, which brings great anxiety to my son. He worries a lot about the unknown and even staying with grandparents sometimes feels overwhelming. The night before we left, we prayed for his fearful heart and I told him he was brave. Then we came up with a plan that has become an anthem for my family. When fear creeps in, three fist bumps and three words…brave, brave, brave. The next morning when I hugged him, he looked into my eyes and held up his fist…brave, brave, brave. It took every ounce of self control I had not to burst into tears.
Now, before a big test, on the pitcher’s mound or when when he’s up to bat with two outs, he finds me in the crowd and holds up his fist or his glove…brave, brave, brave. With three little words, he’s reminded of the prayer his Dad and I spoke over him that fearful night. He’s reminded he is brave and he can do hard things.
You see the problem with fear, like many emotions, is that it grows rapidly and builds momentum. Before we know it, we are consumed, preoccupied and dominated by a feeling.
I was reminded this week of Paul’s words to Timothy,
“For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”2 Timothy 1:7
Y’all, this spirit of fear that consumed me this past week, is not what God wants for me or for you. Even in these circumstances, we cannot operate out of fear.
You see, fear paralyzes, creates confusion and obliterates our focus. It’s a vicious cycle…a trap. And, we just don’t have time for that in this moment. Now, more than ever we need to have clear eyes and laser-sharp focus. We cannot afford anything less.
Paul’s words may have been written for Timothy but I believe they are so timely. You see the verse continues to say what God wants for us: power, love and self-discipline. Some versions say a sound mind – I’ll take them both. Please and thank you.
As I’ve said before, I’m no bible scholar, but I believe that Paul was trying to get Timothy to tap into something or dig deep, so to speak. See, Timothy was timid, a little scared, maybe fearful. And, Paul, facing probable death, needed Timothy to carry the torch. He needed Timothy to break the cycle of fear. He needed Timothy to be brave.
Instead of a fist bump and a prayer, he used profound words. He reminded Timothy that his strength comes from the Lord, and has nothing to do with his circumstances. Maybe Timothy needed to hear that the God who created the universe was by his side. Maybe he needed a reminder that he was not alone. And, maybe we’re a little like Timothy. My friends, we are not alone. “Through the waters,…through the rivers,…through the fire,” He is here (Isaiah 43: 2-3). He never leaves, He never forsakes (Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm:46:1). This awareness that God is with you is a game changer. Fear will lose to this power every time.
So now that you know the source of your strength, Paul reminds us to love and love well…because love, my dear readers, “drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). I don’t know of time when this has ever been more important. We must, right now, love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). You see there is one more thing that I just didn’t know a few weeks ago. Our church recently fasted for our neighbors for one month. The fast ended just a few days before the Tornado. It’s not lost on me that God knew what this city and this nation would be facing. It’s not lost on me that one week love means going into the trenches after a tornado, while the next week love means social distancing. Friends this is not the time to tear each other down on social media and politicize a crisis. It’s time to love, maybe from a distance, but love. Distance doesn’t mean isolation. Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly. Pick up someone’s groceries, face-time your family, pray over your community, and take a walk, if you can, through your neighborhood and look around at your people, even if from a distance. Love each other, protect each other, be kind and gracious to one another…drive out fear.
And, lastly Paul reminds Timothy of the spirit of self-discipline or a sound-mind. Again, no scholar here, but in a letter to Philippi, Paul reminds the Philippians of the peace of God, that comes from prayer and thanksgiving, which “transcends understanding”. Peace that “guards your heart and your mind” (Philippians 4:7). He’s speaking of a peace over your spirit, regardless of your situation. A peace beyond understanding …the peace and freedom of Jesus. Then he encourages the Philippians to think about things that are “true,…noble,…right,…pure,…lovely,…admirable,…excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8). Sounds a little like self-discipline. When fear creeps in, dear friends, pray, be thankful and choose new thoughts.
I kinda wish I was present when Timothy read these words. I wonder if he let out a big sigh or if tears streamed down his face, as they do mine when I write. Did he get on his knees or place his hands in the air as he felt the weight of fear lift from his shoulders? Or did he simply say, Thank you Lord, as I did this week, when he read the words he needed to hear. And, the next time fear tried to creep in, I wonder how Timothy reminded himself of Paul’s words…maybe with a fist in the air and three little words…brave, brave, brave.
Stay safe. Love your neighbors. Be brave!
***Image from UnSplash.com