She’s afraid she’ll wake up and I’ll be forever gone, that the darkness will steal me away from her.
We sit together all curled up, watching something on TV. I absently stroke her hair with my fingers, gently nudging out the tangles, and she tries to move closer, to squeeze out all the space between us. It’s odd and turbulent, the place girls get to just before the little in them moves on, the clash of vulnerability and independence, of identity and the desire to stay hidden. In the busy, bright hours, she asserts herself with vibrant declarations and swirling flights of imagination. But at night, when she’s tired, she climbs on my lap and buries her head in my shoulder, and she just can’t seem to get close enough. I am the anchor she returns to, the answer she can see, her safe harbor.
The show ends and she looks up at me, and I squeeze her shoulders. ”I love you. Time for bed.”
She clutches my arm, suddenly tearful, the fear washing all the color from her cheeks. “Mom, I just can’t stop thinking about that.”
We have discussed it more than once. Much more than a strategy for stalling, her fear is real, and it attacks in the moment of leaving me, especially at night.
I have told her that I feared the same thing as a girl. I used to say, “See you in the morning” every night when I left Mom and Dad, because somehow I felt more assured when they called those five precious words back as I wandered away in search of sleep. It felt like a promise, and if ever they forgot to reply, I’d interrogate them. ”I’ll see you in the morning, right?” I don’t know when or why it had occurred to little me that my parents could be suddenly ripped from my life, but as a girl, that loss scared me most.
“Oh sweetie, don’t think about it. It doesn’t do any good to think about that,’ I tell her, weary, hoping to brush the fear aside, nonchalantly. ”I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Promise?” She asks desperately, blinking.
Oh, how I want to promise. I want to use words like never, and definitely won’t. But I don’t lie to my children, and I don’t make promises I can’t keep.
“Honey, you know I can’t promise. I wish I could. But we don’t have any control over these things.” I realize that I am avoiding the word death.
Next to me, she shatters, letting go. ”I know, but I’m just so scared. I need you. I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you. I would just be so lonely and sad. And I just keep thinking about what it would be like, if, if…” Her words wash away on waves of grief, and she can barely breathe, much less speak. I pull her into me, holding on as tightly as I can, whispering prayers, lifting my eyes heavenward.
And when the sobs no longer take her breath away, I tell her what I know about fear:
You cannot live in fear.
If you live in fear, you will not fully live at all.
“Do you know,” I ask her, looking into her eyes, my hand on her cheek, “that there are still things that I fear?” It amazes me the way she thinks I’m fearless, that she thinks I know things, that even with all the sighs I hold in my throat, she looks at me and sees strength. ”I am afraid something will happen to Dad, or you guys, or someone else I love. I am afraid of what it would feel like to miss you so much. That’s a pain I don’t ever want to know. But I can’t live in fear of losing you, because if I do, it will make me hold something back. And I don’t want to hold anything back. I don’t want to be so concerned about protecting myself. I want to love you with everything I’ve got for every moment we have.”
She nods, absorbing, agreeing, open. ”Mom, sometimes I think about Papa,” and the tears come in a rush again, “and I just can’t stand the thought. I just…Papa!” She hides her eyes, turning her face against me, and I give thanks for the deep, sweet love she feels for my dad. She pulls back, wiping tears from her cheeks with her fingers. ”And then I think about Grandma, and Opa, and…Mom? I miss Oma. I don’t want to miss anyone else.”
I hold her and just breathe. I hate the missing too.
“Oh, sweet girl, I have struggled with this one for a long time. And I have learned a few things. Do you want to know what I’ve learned?”
She sits motionless, ready, listening.
“There are only a few things we can ever really be sure about. Here are the things I know, the things about which I have no doubt. These are the things I hold on to, tight:
God loves you. He loves you so much more than anyone else ever could. He loves you so much that He would have sent Christ just to save you (Romans 5:8).
He hates death just as much as we do, and He’s sad when we’re sad (1 Corinthians 15:25,26; John 11:34-36). And He made a way so that death will not be end of the story (1 Corinthians 15: 54,55).
He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6,8). No matter what, nothing and no one can ever take Him from you (Romans 8: 38,39), so you will never truly be alone.
God does not intend for you to live your life in fear, so when you feel afraid, you can know that the worry is not from God (Romans 8:15). When you read your Bible, notice how often God says, “Do not be afraid.”
We can do nothing to control these things we fear. So, we have to trust God with them. That’s all there is to do.
When I am afraid, I pray. I leave the fear at His feet. I imagine walking into heaven, and He’s so blinding bright, all white. And there’s a lake of blue, and the sweet smell of prayers, and thousands of angels calling “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And I walk right up to His throne—because I’m His daughter—and I place whatever it is right in His hands. He has hands so big they shaped all the ground we walk on (Psalm 95:5), so big that He gathers up the lightening with them (Job 36:32). And on His hands, I can see the the shape of me because He holds me so tightly (Isaiah 49:16). So I put my fear just there, in that most trusted place, and then I walk away. I leave it there.
And since it doesn’t do any good to think in fear, I fight to think in the opposite direction. I count my blessings. I write them down so I won’t forget. I start thinking—on purpose—about all the ways God has blessed me, all the things I can see that remind me that no matter what, God.loves.me. I count my blessings, and I never stop.
And that’s what I want you to do too.
Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it.”
And in the morning, she comes to me, flying down the stairs, a notebook held high. ”Mom, I did it. I sat down and just started writing down my blessings, as many as I could think.” She says this smiling, victory fresh on her cheeks.
And in the notebook, this: an entire page of thankful.
“And Mom? It really worked.”
I smile with her, hugging her close, and she a princess growing. And I tell her the story of a girl who became a queen so that God could use her to save her people– How she married a man she did not know, how this tricked king wrote a law of death.
I think maybe she sees the scepter as I describe it, the one the king extended to grant audience, and I know she feels the fear of the queen, the queen still feeling all girl, the girl who must risk her life to save the dying.
“The queen hadn’t been invited to see the king in a long time. And no one could see the king without an invitation, not even his wife. And if the king did not extend that scepter, the person who went to see him uninvited would be killed.”
“But she went anyway,” Zoe says, already knowing my story.
“Yes. She went. But first, she asked everyone to pray and not to eat for three days. For three days, she left her fear at God’s throne. And she said, ‘After this is done, I will go to the king. And if I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).’”
“But I bet she was still so scared,” the princess says, half with me, half with the queen.
“I know.” We stop together, thinking. ”How did she ever do it, do you think?”
“She must’ve tried so hard just to trust God. I mean, what else could she do?”