I first realized how unsafe the world was through a news story I heard my parents discuss sometime during my eighth year. Even though I remember hearing about the death of President Kennedy, it didn’t rock my world. My concerns were more pointed and personal: whether the bully would be looking for me at school the next day or if I would want to eat what was on the cafeteria menu. Not so after this day.
The story I am thinking about involved a circus lion that had escaped its cage and gotten loose in a small town in a neighboring state. That night my imagination ran away with me. I made sure to lock my bedroom window and I lay in bed with a baseball bat across my chest just in case. The world had become a dangerous place and I needed to be able to deal with it.
Eventually, I fell asleep that night. Since then, though I have had some sleepless nights, I have never faced even the remote threat of being devoured, save in a metaphorical way. I went to work this morning unarmed and even though the snows of winter are coming, I expect that I will survive to the spring.
With all that is going on around this world, how is it that all of us are not emotionally paralyzed? Are some of us just made of sterner tuff? I think that what makes life meaningful and even joyful in the face of very real fears is knowing that the raging beast may be loud, but it is not the only power afoot.
Christian writer Frederick Buechner wrote an essay on the subject of sleep. It says a lot. “It’s a surrender, a laying down of arms. Whatever plans you’re making, whatever work you’re up to your ears in . . . whatever sorrows or anxieties or problems you’re in the midst of, you set them aside, find a place to stretch out somewhere, close your eyes, and wait for sleep.
“All the things that make you the particular person you are stop working – your thoughts and feelings, the changing expressions of your face, the constant moving around, the yammering will, the relentless or not so relentless purpose. But all the other things keep on working with a will and purpose of their own. You go on breathing in and out. Your heart goes on beating. If some faint thought stirs somewhere in the depths of you, it’s converted into a dream so you can go on sleeping and not have to wake up to think it through before it is time.
“Whether you’re just or unjust, you have the innocence of a cat dozing under the stove. Whether you’re old or young, homely or fair, you take on the serenity of marble. You have given up being in charge of your life. You have put yourself into the hands of the night.
“It is a rehearsal for the final laying down of arms, of course, when you trust yourself to the same unseen benevolence to see you through the dark and wake you when the time comes – with new hope, new strength – into the return again of life.”
The nightly news hasn’t been good lately. The roaring lion is making a fearful amount of noise. Maybe he is breathing his foul breath into your life. You can shutter your relational windows and dead bolt your finances, but you’ll soon feel the temperature dropping as your heart freezes in place.
There’s another option. “Do not be anxious about anything. As you take your needs to the God of peace, He who is far more capable than you will guard your heart and mind as befits the relationship you have developed together in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, my translation)
I got up that next day and went back into my life with its decisions and hazards and pleasures. I still run scared of things more often than I like to admit, yet at the end of each dark and fearful path, I learn once again that God has been with me all along.