"Jesus said to them, 'In this world you will have trouble. But do not be afraid. I have overcome the world.'" - John 16:33
If you're a parent, or if you've cared for a child overnight, you'll recognize this drill: Read story, say prayers, position bunny, plant kiss, douse lights, tiptoe out. Child cries, "Monsters!" (or alligators, or spiders on the wall, or…)" Lights on. Peer under bed. Reassure, "No monsters. Go to sleep. Good night."
It's a charming game, calming irrational kid-fears with rational adult assurances. But as Rabbi Edward Friedman observes, there comes a moment when it scares you more than it scares the kids—the moment you realize they have it right. There are monsters in the room, children just don't know their real names. But you do—drugs, cancer, racism, bullying, terrorism, molestation, family breakup. Suddenly your assurances seem more irrational than their fears.
You freeze up when you imagine what's hovering in that room. Yet you still say it, night after night: "No monsters. Go to sleep. Good night." Even knowing what you know, you leave them in the dark. "See you in the morning," you whisper, and tiptoe away.
Friedman says, "That's faith. Not the affirmation of some abstract belief, but the courage to live in a world with no guarantees. To bring children into that world. To offer a child a big tomorrow when you can't be certain tomorrow will come…"
That's faith: "Beyond the mystery, meaning. Beyond the brokenness, wholeness. Beyond the despair, hope. Beyond the fear, purpose." Beyond the menace of monsters, a constant voice: "I have overcome the world."
Give me faith to tiptoe away from dread and fear, O Christ; faith even to promise safety I can't deliver, trusting that you will.
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Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.