An Angel or messenger of God usually begins with some form of these words: Do not be afraid. Must be a common response to facing whatever life presents.
Parents from well-worn Bible stories are among those who heard these words. Jesus’ mother Mary, Samuel’s mother Hannah, John the Baptizer’s mother and father and even Jesus’ earthly father Joseph were confronted with impossible circumstances that were beyond easy explanation when the angels’ message came. Some of the stories actually say the recipients were afraid. I, too, know fear from unknown and known circumstances (and from some I merely imagine could be true).
For me, being a parent to adult children is one particular kind of challenge. I have spent the majority of the past two months and now in the month ahead with my adult children in life-altering circumstances. While the circumstances are very different for each of them, I see how that being afraid causes me to get stuck, to react, or to act seeking my own way. It doesn’t seem like fear, though, on the surface. My fears are masked as helping, rescuing, and managing circumstances that are not my own.
What can I learn from these stories? Is the response simply to not be afraid? Or, is there something more to the ubiquitous request?
I took notice when the strong women in the book I just finished reading, Dream Wheels by Richard Wagamese, define a mother’s courage in a contemporary setting. Johanna’s son’s life has been radically changed by calculated physical risk-taking to chase a dream. Claire’s son’s life has been radically changed by a lifetime of oppression and searching for hope in all the wrong places. The women learn from one another and a greater power for good in their lives to provide space for their own and their sons’ way toward wholeness and healthy parent/adult child relationships.
Johanna grinned. “The natural thing would be to worry, fret over him, try to make things easy for him, coddle him. But that wouldn’t solve anything. In the end it would only hurt him more. So I have to choose to let him walk the path he wants to walk. Choose to be confident that I raised him with the principles that will save him. Choose to believe in him. And ultimately choose to not worry—the ultimate unnatural act for a mother.”
“Faith,” Claire said.
“Courage,” Johanna said. “Faith is what we earn when we have enough courage to face what is in front of us.”
Maybe that is what the ancient people did when their angels came with the news— they had enough courage to face what was in front of them even when it was scary.
My friend Randall lived that notion of courage to faith in front of me. Randall’s not so old, older brother died last week. I didn’t know his brother. I did witness the way that my friend faced the great struggle that was his brother’s life. Somehow he stood beside him and yet allowed his brother to walk his own path. Even when it didn’t seem on the surface that things worked out, Randall noticed the ways his brother gave and received grace. He was able to eulogize the principles that his brother lived that gave me a glimpse of another way of facing fear in relationship with courage.
Walter Brueggemann reflects that Advent is a time of struggle between the poem that opens the future—that God will work – and the memo that keeps us thinking we are in control. We know about endings and the old scripts that bind us. Brueggeman says that we know the weariness that comes from propping up old realities.
Courage involves a choice as Johanna says. So I have to choose to let him walk the path he wants to walk. I choose to be confident that I raised him with the principles that will save him. I choose to believe in him. And ultimately choose to not worry and not to get caught in the old realities.
In this season, free us for a new beginning – to have the courage to face what is in front of us even when it is scary. Faith comes from the courage to face new realities with trust. Whether in death or life, have the courage to believe in the person—no scripts attached.