"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18a)
There is a unique kind of desperation when, you are deprived of sleep. For me, during those dark, newborn-colicky days, I found myself fantasizing about sleep: where, when and how. One of my favorite fantasies as I bounced my screaming babe was seeing myself on a beach, in a hammock, with a sky full of bright stars, a slight breeze, and ocean waves lulling me to sleep. Frequently, I found myself in my room at 3 a.m. with an inconsolable baby piercing my eardrums, but in my mind I was rocking slowly back and forth looking at my toes framed by ocean waves.
When my husband and I had our first child, we were astounded by the amount of love that flooded us. I had never pined after being a mother and had purposefully pursued education, career, and travel over motherhood in my young adult years. It was not until I was well into my 30s that I even began to consider becoming a mother.
The amount of joy and love we felt when Nyah was born took me completely by surprise. I was amazed that no one had ever told us how wonderful this parenting thing was. I marveled at how much art was inspired by romantic love when this parental love was so much more visceral—so much more hopeful. I asked a friend why she thought more songs and sonnets were not written about children, and she said, “I don’t know—because parents are exhausted?”
However, as anyone who loves knows, love is a paradoxical pursuit. As far as the pendulum of love and joy can swing, it can equally delve into incredible pain. I realized this terrifying fact too late, after my daughter had become my everything. Only after I would step in front of a bus for her did I realize that loving such a small and fragile person was a recipe for torture.
My torture began as I obsessed over losing the pregnancy for 40 weeks. Once she was born healthy, I traded that fear for SIDS. I was afraid of my daughter choking, of her darting in front of a car, of her being kidnapped, of her acquiring autism from non-organic strawberries . . . . When I was not love drunk happy with my child, I was terrified. I spent too many moments afraid.
When my second child was on her way—the screamer—I made the conscious choice that I would not be so afraid. I realized the terror I had allowed into my head and heart was unsustainable and torturous. I wanted to enjoy her infanthood in a manner much less impeded by fear.
I was forced to pursue my faith and relinquish the illusion of control far more often to accomplish this task. I chose to seek God through contemplation amidst the chaos. It was the discipline of a worshipful heart that allowed me to let go.
I chose for the season, in addition to the fantasy of a hammock on the beach, a prayer of St. Teresa of Avila, “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing make you afraid. All things are passing. God alone never changes. Patience gains all things. If you have God you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.” 1
Along with that prayer, I prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I prayed these prayers over and over and over again—along with the desperate mother prayer, “Oh Lord, I don’t need much, just give me the crumbs under your table—and by crumbs, I mean sleep!!!!”
When she did sleep, rather than check on her every five minutes, I breathed deeply and thanked God for the gift of her. Rather than obsess over whether someone sanitized their hands before they shook mine, I tried not to panic; instead I waited until I had carefully changed her before I frantically washed my hands. I found that I enjoyed the little moments more. The moments that she was asleep, the moments that she was cooing on her changing table before she screamed, the quiet sleeping moments after the fussy evening moments. In fact, I wrote this article entirely during nap times . . . had I been hovering over the monitor, I would never have accomplished tasks like this that make a mother feel a bit more human (along with showering, going to the grocery store alone, and exercising).
Although it felt like torture when she screamed in the evenings in her colicky days, I did not impose on myself the torture of “what ifs” that I had with my firstborn. It was the discipline of worship and thankfulness that allowed me to do this.
Worship is not unique to the sanctuary. Worship should be part of the fabric of the life of a Christian. When we see worship in this way, we are able to make our praise an organic part of our lives. Christians should be living lives of worship—in good times and in bad. On dark nights, mountain tops, grocery store aisles, fancy pews, and couches in living room Bible studies.
Fears brought on by intense love are not unique to parents. Lovers have moments of panic when away from the other, friends worry about one another, co-workers and pet owners, congregation members and gym rats. All that we grow to love, we fear to lose.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul defends the Christian work and encourages them to keep their thoughts captive.2 It is an act of faith and worship to defy fear. It is a Christian discipline to choose, in any given moment, to embrace love right now rather than give in to terror. It is standing against the torturous threat that Christ has conquered with his death and resurrection.
We know that dark days will come. Death will come. Tragedy will come. Is it not a waste then to spend any moments as parents, lovers, and friends in mourning before its due time?
WORSHIP IS NOT UNIQUE TO THE SANCTUARY. WORSHIP SHOULD BE PART OF THE FABRIC OF THE LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN.
As a parent, I am mindful of how my example will affect my daughters. At some point, if I am not consciously living in love rather than fear, my fear will infect them, and I do not want them to live in fear. I want them to be afraid when it is appropriate to keep them safe, but I do not want them to ever believe that keeping themselves safe is the only goal of life. For if they did, they would miss out on so much that makes life exhilarating and terrifying. I want them to face fear with love, praise, and confidence. I want them to take risks, fall down, fail, and learn from and worship through their experiences.
There is plenty in life to naturally torture us without allowing the unknowable and uncontrollable to steal our present peace.
Loving through this type of prayer— keeping our fears in check and our thoughts captive in worship—can remind us that there is a Love that inspires us to risk failure, loss of control, and an unknowable future. Loving like this will set us free.
BETHANY HULL SOMERS an ordained elder, has served as a revivalist, a pastor in several capacities for 10 years, and a hospital chaplain at Skagit Valley Hospital (when she is not busy being a mommy to her two daughters).
2 2 Corinthians 10:5.