“Do not be afraid of sudden fear…for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.” Proverbs 3:25-26
There has been so much bad news lately. People dying, friends who got a bad diagnosis, others waiting for their annual check-up which almost turns them inside out with worry. Young people are applying for jobs, saving for homes, trying to have babies and constantly hearing they’re unsuccessful. You take a deep breath, you swallow hard, you tell them it sucks. You want to tell them that in time, things will work out, that things always do. Instead you just hold them close.
The trouble is, that while things do work out in the end, they don’t generally work out the way we hoped they would. It can be tempting to think that God has a high regard for our ability to be strong. Or perhaps that He is unkind and uncaring, ignoring our plight. Maybe he wants us to figure this out in silence in a lonely room, like some sort of closed book exam.
Recently, I sat with the children at school to watch an online reading of the Rapunzel story. This reading was a prelude to a maths lesson about measurement. In the lesson the students were going to create a picture of Rapunzel, decide how long to make her hair and then demonstrate their understanding of how to measure length. It seemed like a fun idea to begin with.
Not long into the story, I noticed the terror that filled some of their eyes. Little bodies began to wriggle, some scootched towards my chair. I turned the screen off. Instead of length we discussed fear. I told them I had not wanted them to be afraid, that we could do the craft activity without watching the rest of the story.
“No!” they said in unison. “We want to know what happens.”
I proposed that instead of watching the story being read, I could tell them the story.
“And we could close our eyes?” suggested one student.
“Or we could sit even closer together?” proposed another.
“We could sit closer to you?” Came another voice.
Some students still looked worried about these ideas.
“We could not read it at all?” I offered.
One student stood up.
“I know what to do. Let’s watch it, but we must all hold hands and sit closely together.”
They all agreed. Even the ones with blotched faces and tears in their eyes nodded.
“We need to make fear our friend and then it will get smaller inside of us.” One small voice heralded the final decision. They took each other by the hand and watched the rest of the story while I watched them, warmed by the innocent wisdom of their solutions.
This year I have been thinking a lot about what community looks like now that our own children are adults, now that our careers are in full swing, now that our parents are aging, now that any free time is dedicated to seeing family. It seems to be getting more difficult to gather with friends. I wonder about how to deal with this. How to support all those people I love who are going through difficult times.
Around the time of the Rapunzel episode, Emma had tickets to hear George Saunders at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. He opened with this magnificent recount of a terrifying experience he had on a plane. He described the sudden fear that jolted him from the pleasure of reading Vanity Fair. Passengers were screaming, black smoke streamed from the air-conditioning vents, lights flickered and the pilot told everyone to buckle their seatbelts. The only thought Saunders had was “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”
The audience laughed as he explained how disappointed he had been to feel so paralysed and helpless in the situation. He couldn’t even remember his own name.
Then he heard the voice of a young boy beside him asking whether they were going to be alright. He noticed the face of a woman across the aisle, wet with tears. He told the audience that he did the only thing there was to do. He held their hands and they waited to die.
They didn’t die. Though a flock of geese that had flown directly into the plane engine may have. Eventually, everything was resolved and they flew safely home.
This week as I sat by the bed of my husband’s dying mother, I thought a lot about the simple joy of holding hands. The power of that connection to help us face life or death, head on. This simple act ushers a sense of soul time where even the worst of circumstances feels quite natural and beautiful. All the people who were meant to show up are somehow guided to the gathering, and the triune God gathers around the circle, holding you in.
It is just like the Bible said it would be.
“He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God is there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4
Anne Lamott writes,
“In a fairy tale, you often have to leave the place where you have grown comfortable and travel to a fearful place full of pain, and search for what was stolen or confront the occupying villain; it takes time for the resulting changes to integrate themselves into the small funky moments that make up our lives.”
Eventually you discover that the seeds of hope were already present, that God had already acted on your behalf. There was an open door or a way to take but you were too consumed by your difficulties to see what was right there in front you. The truth is we can’t do life in isolation any more than Rapunzel could. The worst thing of all is to find ourselves alone in a tower in a dark forest. But if we search hard enough there are people who will help us to find our way home.