Despite the cool glow of his lava lamp and the assurances that we are Right There if he needs us, the almost-11-year-old is certain that monsters lurk in hidden spots in his bedroom. I can't really fault him; I'm not sure how old I was before I stopped believing that there was a bear hiding behind my bedroom door.
The other night was different, though.
It began with the squeak of a doorknob turning, and then there he was, standing in his darkened room. "Mom? Is today the day that the planes flew into the towers?"
"Yes. Yes, it is."
He shifted into talking about monsters and I thought the planes were forgotten. We talked about ways to calm our fears of things unseen, of verses that comfort, of a God who watches. He doesn't get it. How is God supposed to be a comfort when he can't see him, can't hear him, can't feel him? To be honest, I'm left without answers, because there is something in the easy comfort answers that doesn't always ring true to me either.
Then he asks the question. "Mom? Why did the owl queens do that?" For a moment I don't understand. "Do what?" "You know. The planes." It hits me, then, that we have circled back around to the first topic, that the owl queens are his way of making sense of a name that is as unfamiliar to him as it was to most of us fourteen years ago.
I think I understand what he is really asking. Sometimes there are monsters, and sometimes those monsters aren't just in our imagination. How do we walk through life, how do we sleep in peace when we don't know when the monsters will strike? How do we sleep when we don't know if our monsters are real or imagined?
|Photo by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel via Flickr Creative Commons
We Christians in America, we like our bedtime prayers, don't we? We ask God to keep us safe, we claim hedges of protection and deliverance from our enemies. We are raised on stories of Daniel in the lion's den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, the disciples in the storm-tossed boat. And somehow this always translates out the same; God keeps his people safe. He always comes through. Always rescues. Always protects.
Sometimes he doesn't.
Often he doesn't.
Sometimes owl queens strike. What do we tell our children then? What do we say to the fears hiding in the shadows?
My son and I lay curled up in his bed that night and we talked about monsters, fear, and faith. There were no easy answers, because I have no need to present him with a faith that I have securely packed into a box, wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow. My faith is messy and the box is wobbly and the packaging keeps exploding out everywhere in a mess of shredded paper. It looks, sometimes, like a third grader did the wrapping, lopsided bow and all. This is the faith, the antidote to fear, that I have to offer him.
Oh, but can I tell you what is in that messy, wobbly package with the lopsided bow? There, in the center of all of the mess and tangle is one bright, shining jewel. That jewel is Jesus. When everything else falls away, when the world is dark and hurtful and full of monsters, I have this one truth that I can hold in my hands.
Jesus came. He came to redeem the world. He came to show us the very image of God, and in doing so he gave us the model for what we are supposed to look like. Because HE loved, we can love. (1 John 4:19) First, foremost and always, Jesus looks like love. Perfect love, the kind that drives out fear.
This, I think, is how we fight fear, by living like the kingdom that Jesus came teaching. This crazy, upside-down kingdom in which we love our enemies, and in which we offer them clothing and shelter even when they are mistreating us. The one in which we walk second miles, turn the other cheek, give someone our shirt when they take our coat. (Luke 6:27-36)
At its root, isn't fear so often focused on ourselves? Isn't love for others the antithesis to that?
I don't expect a child to always understand that.
I DO expect us to get it.
We've been loved so very much; loving others isn't optional. Otherwise, we become the monsters that we fear.