I’ve had the privilege of keeping my grandson this week.
It’s the first time he’s been away from his mom and dad since he was born early and stayed in NICU for over two months.
So it’s no wonder the first night he was here and sleeping in a different room with light coming through the windows from the moon and casting strange shadows his sleepy eyes told his little brain there was something to fear.
What started as a whimper grew to a full on desperate cry and I could tell it wasn’t just restless sleep-he was startled and afraid.
So I picked him up, held him close to my chest, nestled his head under my chin and whispered, “It’s alright. You’re not alone. I love you.” I rubbed his back, calmed him down and he was able to drift off to sleep once again sure he was safe.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I felt like I’d been picked up from the world I knew and understood and thrust into one where everything was unfamiliar, frightening and potentially dangerous.
There were strange shadows everywhere.
I not only whimpered, I cried out in desperation for some solace, some confirmation that I was seen, heard and loved.
As my perfect, faithful, loving Father, God reminded my heart He was there in the dark when the shadows threatened to undo me.
One of my favorite verses is found in Zephaniah and is a picture of God gathering His people in His arms, comforting them with His love and singing peace and joy over their souls.
For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. ~ Zephaniah 3:17 NLT
When I listen I can hear Him sing over me.
When I am still, He covers me with His grace.
When I lean into His arms and rest my head on His chest, I am filled with strength and peace.
I try hard not to imply that MY child loss experience is representative of EVERY child loss experience.
Because, as we all know, every parent’s journey (even parents of the same child) is utterly, incontrovertibly unique.
My son was killed suddenly in an accident. Other parents I know have stories of prolonged illness. Some feared it coming as his or her child struggled with addiction and dangerous choices. And still others bear the added burden of suicide in child loss.
It’s a commonly repeated untruth that there are 365 “fear nots” in the Bible.
But there ARE a lot of them.
While many folks like to interpret these commands as admonitions to the trembling hearts standing, kneeling or falling on their face before the Angel of the Lord or begging to be delivered from a perilous situation, I think they are an invitation.
I think they are an invitation to walk into the perfect peace promised by the King of Peace.
They are an invitation to rest in His Presence.
They are an invitation to admit my weakness and appropriate His strength.
I love the book of Psalms because in many ways it feels like the most accessible and “human” book of the Bible.
David and others poured out their hearts to God-no filter, no mask, no pretense-the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful, the desperate. So while we could explore many other “fear not” verses, I will start here.
“I will bless the Eternal, whose wise teaching orchestrates my days and centers my mind at night. 8 He is ever present with me; at all times He goes before me. I will not live in fear or abandon my calling because He stands at my right hand.
9 This is a good life—my heart is glad, my soul is full of joy, and my body is at rest. Who could want for more? ” ~ Psalm 16:7-9 VOICE
The Psalmist says a lot in these three verses:
he relies on the truth found in God’s Word to guide his days and focus his thoughts at night
he trusts that God is with him always
he knows God will fight for him
therefore he can rest secure
When I spend time in Scripture, saturating my heart and mind with God’s Word, I have truth readily available to combat the lies of the enemy.
Satan wants me to worry and fret, to doubt my Father’s goodness and faithful love and to shake my confidence that God is for me.
The more I sit with Jesus, the more I listen to HIM and learn His voice, the less power the enemy of my soul has over me.
Another favorite :
I am hardly fearless.
In fact, I struggled with fear of the dark until I was nearly 40 years old. I only overcame that fear when necessity forced me to face it and I walked out trembling reciting every verse I could remember about not being afraid.
This was one of them.
I face different fears now.
When the one thing you think won’t happenDOES happen, the thought it might happen AGAINis never far from your mind.
So all this virus talk is working on that fear. People I love might get sick. People I love might die. I know exactly the wreckage death leaves behind and I don’t want to live through that again.
But I might have to so I’m clinging to the truth David sang hundreds of years ago:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1 KJV
the Lord is my light-He illuminates my path and my heart
the Lord is my salvation-He alone can save me (in this life or in eternity through Christ)
the Lord is the strength of my life-He made me, He keeps me and I am His
with the Creator of the universe caring for me, what can anyone or any force do to me without His consent?
I have nothing to fear
When I accept my Father’s invitation to crawl up into His lap, rest in His arms and rely on His strength, I am fearless.
But like a child I often run away just when I most need His comfort.
I love this translation of Psalm 94:19 because it reflects my temptation to bring my anxiety, sorrow and fears to God but then to take them back:
After the multitude of my sorrows in mine heart; thy comforts made glad my soul. (And after a multitude of sorrows gathered together in my heart; once again thy comfort gladdened my soul.)
Psalm 94:19 WYC
God knows I am made of dust. God knows my heart is prone to fear and worry. God knows my feelings often drive reason right out of my head.
He’s not surprised by my trembling knees and weak hands.
He doesn’t turn away because I am afraid.
“Thy comforts made glad my soul”-God will comfort me in my distress. He will wait for me to turn to Him and will wait for me to turn to Him again when I turn away. “[O]nce again thy comfort gladdened my soul.”
He never tires of holding out His arms to me.
He says, “Fear not, little one.”
I see you.
I love you.
Come here and let me comfort you.
Use an online or print concordance to find at least 3 other Psalms that speak about God’s desire to comfort us when we are afraid. Copy out one of them and put it where it will encourage your heart.
What frightens you most today? How can these verses help your heart hand that fear over to your Father?
Do you consider yourself a fearful person? Why or why not?
Have you conquered any fears? If so, think about who or what gave you the courage to do it. Can you weave your previous experience into your current situation?
List at least three times you have been afraid of something that MIGHT have happened but DIDN’T happen. Did your fear contribute in any way to the outcome?
How can thinking about “Do Not Fear” as an invitation instead of an admonition strengthen your faith?
Father God, When I look around at how impossibly different the world is today from only a few weeks ago my knees buckle and my heart trembles. I know I’ve never really been in control but at least there was the illusion of control.
I am afraid.
Thank You that I am not defenseless in the battle against fear and worry. When anxiety rises up within me let Your truth be my sword and shield.
Help me run to You. Help me climb into Your lap and rest in Your Presence. Deafen my ears to the lies being whispered and even shouted that threaten to undo me.
Speak courage to my heart and sing comfort over my soul.
Driving down the road I look to the right at the pond overflowing its banks and find myself drifting out of the lane and onto the shoulder.
I never intend to run off the road.
But I steer where I stare. Every time.
I do the same thing with my thought life.
Even before Dominic left us I realized that if I stared long enough and hard enough at the challenges before me (educating and raising four children), the world around me (full of danger and potential danger) or the looming prospect of some giant future obligation, I’d drift from the firm foundation of peace and contentment in Christ and end up in an ocean of worry and despair.
It was critical that I redirect my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection to Jesus and I used Scripture to help me do just that.
I remember the first time I copied out and held onto this verse:
Dominic was only six months old and I absolutely, positively HAD to have my gallbladder removed. I was anxious about leaving him and his siblings for the twenty-four hour hospital stay and even more anxious to be placed under general anesthesia.
The last time I’d been wheeled down a hospital hallway for an operation other than a cesarean section was as a three year old.
There’s something very eerie and frightfully final about having that mask placed over your nose and being asked to count backwards. I didn’t count. Instead I repeated my verse.
And when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, this was one of the verses that helped my heart hold on.
What was once a good habit became a lifeline.
Peace was elusive in those first days, months and even years, but I clung desperately to the truth that if I continued to meditate on, recite and copy out God’s Word my heart would eventually hear it.
Life may be swirling all around me, threatening to steal my hope, my peace, my joy. But I am declaring right now that I will not be swept up into a storm of fear and wild emotions. The Lord has promised me that He will keep me in perfect peace when I fix my mind on Him. I very much recognize I will steer where I stare. So I must watch what I fixate on. If I keep staring at the wrong things, I’ll go in wrong directions. I am choosing to place my attention on the Lord in this very moment. I am choosing to focus on trusting Him and believing His promises. And as I steer my attention more and more toward Him, His peace will come and flood my heart and settle my anxious mind.You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
Lisa TerKeurst, It’s Not Supposed to be This Way
My heart is headed somewhere.
Focusing solely on what I’ve lost, what I’m afraid of, or the emotional and relational storm around me will lead to despair.
When I lift my eyes and fix my gaze on Jesus, He will lead me to hope.
When I reach out my hand for the edge of His garment, He will help me hold on.
If there is one phrase that describes child loss it’s this: Utter destruction.
When that deputy showed up at my door and the words he spoke sank into my brain, my world imploded and exploded at the same time.
There was nothing left that made sense except the hands of the two children who happened to be home that night.
I held on for all I was worth because I was certain if I let go I’d float away into nothingness like an astronaut whose spacesuit tether is cut in two.
Living this side of 2000 plus years of Christianity, it’s easy to forget that Paul probably felt much the same way when the religion he had embraced, had vigorously defended (to the point of putting “heretics” to death) and had trusted to frame his life and understanding of the world was swept away on the Damascus road.
Not only did he endure three days of blindness, he endured three years in the desert as the Lord helped him connect the dots between what the Scriptures (remember-there was no New Testament yet) said and what He was doing in the world through Jesus, His Son.
Then as he took this Gospel-the Good News- to others, he was subjected to prison, beatings and more. Often he despaired even of life ( 2 Corinthians 1:8).
Yet Paul kept on going. He clung to the promises of God that no matter how much he suffered, the comfort of Christ was enough to help his heart hold onto hope.
All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. 4 He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles. 5 For even as His suffering continues to flood over us, through the Anointed we experience the wealth of His comfort just the same. 6 If we are afflicted with such trouble and pain, then know it is so that you might ultimately experience comfort and salvation. If we experience comfort, it is to encourage you so that you can hold up while you endure the same sufferings we all share. 7 Remember that our hope for you stands firm, unshaken and unshakable. That’s because we know that as you share in our sufferings, so you will also share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 VOICE
Paul doesn’t simply receive the comfort God offers and hoard it. He doesn’t pile it up in a corner and keep it to himself. No! He declares that the comfort he receives is meant for sharing!
A pastor friend says, “Your misery is your ministry.”
I think he’s right.
Child loss has been my greatest challenge, my deepest pain and my most profound misery.
But is has also been the very place God has met me with the greatest comfort, the deepest compassion and the most profound revelation of Who He is.
So it is with suffering; it never leaves you the same. You run into the traps of temptation that greet every sufferer and are left with a cruel harvest in your heart and relationships, or you run toward the comforts of grace, which shine most brightly in the darkness of suffering, and reap a harvest of blessing. Yes, you may continue to suffer, or its effects may remain, but you now live with a changed heart, a sturdier faith, and a joy that suffering cannot take away.
Paul David Tripp, Suffering
The comfort I have received is now mine to give to others.
In spite of everything I’ve endured, my hope remains unshaken and unshakeable.
What specific comfort have you received that you could share with others?
Is God placing people in your path who need that comfort?
How might you do that? Where can you share your story?
If you are already sharing, do you edit yourself so that the hard places don’t seem so hard? Why or why not?
Are you afraid to share the darkness you felt/feel because you think it undermines God’s reputation?
Father God, open the eyes of my heart so that even in the darkest place, the most desolate path, I see Your light and feel Your Presence.
You don’t ask me to deny pain or to pretend that things are “just fine” when they aren’t. You only ask that I bring all my broken bits and heartache to You. When I choose to do that, You are faithful to minister love, grace, mercy and comfort to my spirit and renew my strength.
Help me hold onto hope. Help me to lean into love. Teach me to trust Your truth even when it’s hard.
Take my life and turn it into a testimony of Your faithfulness. Make my misery a ministry to others. Give me beauty for ashes.
One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is that the medical model of “identify, treat, cure” is not applicable to grieving hearts.
Grief is not a disease. It’s not an abnormality. It doesn’t need to be treated and cured so that it “goes away”.
It’s the perfectly normal and appropriate response to loss.
A more helpful model is compassionate companionship.
What grievers need is faithful friends and family who choose to come alongside and refuse to be frightened away when the process seems long, tortuous and challenging. We need others to be present, to truly listen and to bear witness to our wounds.