I am naked and alone, strapped to a table looking up at dingy square tiles. The room is cold and I am cold. Between bouts of vomit I whisper to anyone who can hear me- “I can’t breathe…”
After 36 hours of labor this is where I find myself. My husband is somewhere else dressing himself like someone about to be exposed to a viral disease, and I suddenly realize I am scared. Really scared.
The last 40+ weeks I have done everything humanly possible to protect this baby growing inside my body, and I realize that already much of my preparation has been in vain. 3 months of birthing classes, prenatal yoga, and prayer did not help my body birth this baby like I planned.
Clammy and weak, I realize she is about to be separated from me. I think, “I can’t control everything to keep my baby completely safe when she’s inside of me, it’s just going to get worse once she is out..”
My body is about to be cut open and her pulled out, a forced but necessary separation, and in an instant fear breaks over me like a wave, the undertow of anxiety pulling me under. I squeeze my eyes shut, blocking out the ugly tile on the ceiling and seeing the ugly fear in my heart.
“I can’t breathe…” and for a moment I gave into fear and insecurity and exhaustion.
In that moment I saw a picture of my hands squeezing tight, desperately clutching, afraid of what might happen if I let go. And I see God- His hands, outstretched, open, much bigger and stronger than mine, offering to take over if I let go. I sense God is offering a beautiful exchange- my ability to fearfully attempt to control and protect for His ability to lead and hold.
I feel so afraid but also brave.
As I release the fear my palms open and a tender peace floods in. Hot tears slip from the corners of my eyes and I resurface. My husband is here now, the nurse anesthetist hears me and adjusts the epidural so my blood pressure returns to normal and I stop vomiting, and the surgery begins.
3+ years later, I have two kids, and protecting them is a huge issue, mostly because I am so aware of what COULD happen, what COULD go wrong. This is the same for most parents, I believe. We make choices to protect, to keep safe. Schools, homes, rules, to keep them safe:
-stay out of the street
-don’t eat candy from a stranger
-no playing with knives
-etc etc etc
As my children grow older I think about the purpose of raising them- the WHY, not just the how or what. Of course I want them to be safe, but is that the best guide for my decisions for their lives? Or for my life?
CS Lewis has a character in his children’s books named Aslan. He is a lion that represents a Messiah figure in an alternative world called Narnia. He is described as not safe, but good.
As a follower of Jesus, I find he has lead me in small and big ways to follow His goodness, but not once has He led me through my own sense of safety or security. In fact, it has often been the opposite.
Now I have children, and it seems like the rules change, because, kids, right? Safety is priority #1, right? Safety in my home, in my neighborhood, in their school, in our activities, in America. So I will act and I will vote and I will sacrifice and I will live to protect, to keep safe, because that is now how I should live my life, and that is how I should raise them.
I can’t fully agree with this anymore, with safety as my guide. Because I didn’t sign up to follow safety, and because safety is often a cloak for fear.
And my worries pinpoint the areas in my life where I fear because I don’t really believe in God’s goodness. I choose the goodness of safety to soothe my own fear idols over the not-always-safe goodness of Jesus.
So the real question is, who is do I actually follow? Who do I give in to when the opportunity arises? Fear, or Jesus?
I think back to my daughter’s birth and remember my clenched hands, and then God’s open hands. Will I allow God to hold what I hold so dear myself? My control, my safety, my fear?
Here is what this practically looks like to me with a 3 and 1 year old- and guys, I’m baring it all here despite being ashamed how quickly I turn to fear instead of trust in the goodness of Jesus.
-I want to protect their health, so when my son refuse to eat anything but bread with butter and jelly for days and my very slim daughter refuses to eat anything but onions, celery, and blueberries (for real guys) I begin to fear for their health. Does Jesus really care about their nutrition? Will they eat enough, or eat the same thing for the rest of their life and never try anything new ever again?
-I want to foster healthy sleep habits so when they skip their nap or wake up multiple times at night I begin to fear for their sleep cycles. And mine, too, actually. Dear Lord Jesus make them sleep! For real Jesus- are you listening? Did you know that lack of sleep is not safe or good for their mental and physical development Jesus! Or my mental and physical state? Hello?! Sleepy dust NOW please! WE WILL ALL HAVE MELTDOWNS TOGETHER BECAUSE OF LACK OF SLEEP I AM SURE OF IT… STARTING NOW…
-I want to foster healthy independence so they can thrive in the world but right now the 1 year old is in that super clingy phase. Immediately I fear he will never leave my side and I will never EVER get a break and he will never EVER be happy unless I am holding him. And then when it seems to be too much my daughter MUST BE HELD and both kids want the Full Lap as opposed to One Half Lap each, and I fear I am literally, physically, not enough. And that I am going crazy.
-I want to develop emotionally healthy/socially aware humans, but when they decide to run opposite directions in the chiropractor’s office and then have what seems to be a competitive meltdown match where both are winning, I begin to fear that they not only look like wild but that them looking wild means that I am a poor parent.
I know as they get older there will be more examples of keeping them safe, many of which I am acutely aware I have NO perspective or experience with (schools, relationships, racial issues, finances, public safety, travel, etc forever..).
But for now, I have begun to question my fears which have cleverly disguised themselves in worry-full assumptions throughout my life.
What if I start practicing responding to my fears as if I actually believe God is good and cares about the people involved? What if when I notice these cycles of worry I decide to fixate on what is good instead of fixating on what is safe? If I let go of my control and trust God to work out the details of the bigger picture? What if in the wide openness of God’s hands I am more secure than in the smallness of the space inside my own fist?
Do I dare let go of my control, worries, fears, and insecurities and trust in the goodness of a God who calls himself Love?
And now, back down to earth, do a few clingy episodes or midnight wakings, or meals of bread and butter HAVE TO easily challenge my belief that God cares for these little ones and they will grow up horribly unhealthy and maladjusted?
Every time I see one of these little weed lies popping up in my garden I will dig it up and throw it in the sun to wither. I will cultivate the sprouts of peace and trust and choose to believe in the Goodness of God no matter what. I will live following the example of my God who has hands, not clenched closed in control and fear but held open, ready to give and serve and play and love even if they get dirty.
When I approach a situation and my soul feels like a clenched fist, will I respond with fear and control, or will I look to the guidance offered by a good God who loves me? This is my daily ritual, questioning my worry instead of going with it. Refusing to give into fear, and learning to live with an open heart.
Friends, it’s scary. But we are brave.
If you have read this far, you deserve a medal. Truly. Thanks for hangin’ in there. One day my posts will be shorter and cleaner and faster to read. But until then, this is what I got!
Learning to be a little less safe,
Judy Branum says
The honest truth indeed! Eloquent depiction of what is such a messy and unpredictable world we traverse as mothers!!!