The Thirty-Third Letter: On Being (Not) Afraid

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Dear Daughters,

The truth is, it is easy to be afraid.

A little over a year ago, a talented, vibrant young woman who graduated from our local college was brutally murdered while serving overseas. It was an absolute tragedy that shook the community. An incident like that is like a weight on your chest that you can’t shake off.

In the wake of that tragedy, I tried to write a letter to you about how fear feels different as a parent. I thought about your futures, all the things I can’t control, and wanting to keep you safe. But I couldn’t write it. I couldn’t get beyond the notes I’d jotted down quickly, a list of things that seemed worthy of parental fear: diseases, child predators, kidnapping. Social media, bullying, pornography. Rape, domestic violence, rampant drug use in our community. The list went on and on. There were too many what-ifs, too many potential tragedies, too many sadnesses and risks.

It’s so easy to be afraid.

The other day, I couldn’t see the toddler in the yard and the preschooler didn’t know where she was, so I began to search frantically. The driveway. The front of the house. The side of the house. Looking down the street. Hollering her name. Within a minute or two, I found her, happily in the corner, behind a bush. She was fine. I was sobbing. Why, oh why, was my first instinct that she had been kidnapped?

It doesn’t make sense, except that I was operating out of worst-case-scenario, TV-drama fear.

Listen to me. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s a smart instinct, this fear, that it’s protective, that those gut reactions to distrust others or suspect the worst in others are good because they keep us safe.

I’m sorry, but noI do not believe that.

I stopped watching crime drama many years ago because I found that it was making me see every stranger as a potential predator. That is not hospitality, girls. That is not “welcoming the stranger.”

We have become too afraid.

I hear it in my friends’ voices. I hear it in news reports. I hear it, perhaps especially, tossed about by our political leaders.

Fear people who are different than you.

Be afraid.  

There is not enough. Save your money. Stock the pantry. 

Protect your own. Build walls. Close your blinds.

“Stranger danger.”

I’m so tired of these messages. So tired of the politicians’ preying on our fears. So tired of hearing people I know acting as if these fears are natural and good and help to keep us safe.

No.

Sigh.

I guess what is prompting all of this is just how frustrated I’m feeling about the underlying message of political conversation these days. Normally, I ignore politics as much as possible and, because we don’t watch television, I never even see campaign ads. But the primaries of 2016 have been over-the-top attention-worthy–I can only imagine what your history books will say someday–and I’ve felt compelled to read about what is happening, what is being said, what is being believed.

The bad news is that much of what I hear and read is based on fear. Ill-informed, selfishly motivated, circle-the-wagons fear.

The good news is that this fear is so over-the-top, so exaggerated and obvious, that it has helped me to put my own fears in perspective. I’m serious. When I inwardly accuse politicians (or would-be politicians) of fear-mongering, I feel compelled to consider whether I myself operate out of fear.

And I’m afraid I do.

Sunday is Palm Sunday. Next week is Holy Week.

Do you know what the message of our faith is, girls?

It’s so different from the message of the politicians. It is so different from the message of the 24-hour news cycle. So different from a message of fear.

It’s this:

Love.

Do not be afraid.

There is enough.

Give your lives away. Be vulnerable. Welcome the exile, the widow, the orphan.

The stranger might be Christ.

I’ll confess, these truths don’t typically guide my days. My days are, more often than not, too full of anxiety and discontent and worry. More than I’d like to admit.

But, still, I want my instinct to be fear not.

I want my instinct to be yes, there is enough.

I want my instinct to be the stranger is Christ.

I want my instinct to be love.

That’s Holy Week, girls.

Love,

Your Momma

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