Fret Not

When our daughter Naomi was a toddler, and it was time for a family outing, I would often let her play on the front porch until it was time to go. The family would pile into the car and buckle up, while I went back and forth to gather up our stuff from inside the house.

My intent was for little Naomi to have some fun during that prep time. When it was just about time to go, she would look up from the pile of shoes she was playing with, and interpret the event very differently.

Her two-year-old brained processed the event this way: “Hmm…mommy and daddy are getting into the car with my brothers and sister which means they are about to go bye-bye. The car just made that noise again which means it is about to move. The doors just closed. I am still here on the porch by myself which means…I AM GOING TO BE LEFT BEHIND. I WILL BE ALL ALONE. AHHHHHHH! WAHHHHH!”

Crying and screaming would erupt, which was the appropriate response had we in fact planned to abandon her that morning. Her only help in a dark, empty house would be house pets without opposable thumbs.

I would rush to her, pick her up, and wipe her tear-stained face. As I strapped her in, the rest of the family would invariably chuckle about this together. I mean, Naomi, sweetie, did you really think mommy and daddy were going to leave you behind all by yourself? How many times have we done that to you?

The answer, of course, was not once.

I also process events differently than my Heavenly Father, and respond in the same, silly way. I fear that I have or will be abandoned. There I am on the front porch, trying to figure out how to put these shoes on all by myself, and I look up just in time to see God about to drive away. Then I’ll be all alone in the world to fend for myself. WAHHHHH!

How many times has He done that in my life?

The answer, of course, is not once.

So instead of the joy of looking forward to a great adventure with my Father and His family, a dark cloud of worry envelopes my mind until I can hardly think about anything else.

There is a dark basement of our lives, filled with stress and worry, and the foundation underneath that basement is the fear that we have been abandoned. That darkness has a way of creeping upstairs into the rest of the house, disrupting our own peace of mind and damaging all of our relationships.

If we said the lie we were believing out loud, we would realize how ridiculous it is: I am alone in the world. No one bigger than me is around. I now have to fend for myself.

Time for some foundation repair. I can say to you, no you silly, you have not been abandoned. But that’s not enough. You still wouldn’t get it. You need to let your Heavenly Father scoop you up into His arms and look into His loving eyes long enough for you to say, you’re right…I am being silly.

As God told a stressed-out, tear-stained face people through the prophet Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

He is with you.

I’m going to keep staring into His calm and loving face until I believe that deep down. Until the foundation is repaired and the darkness of doubt is cleared out. I want to strap into this next adventure with a tear-free face. 

Alright Dad, you’re right, I was being silly. You got this…let’s go.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

P.S. For more on this, how the reality of God’s nearness is even more powerful than self-affirmation, see my friend Clark’s recent blog post, The Greatest Weapon Against Self-Doubt.

I blew past someone in the need the other day on the way to a church meeting.

They were on the side of the road with car trouble just ahead of me, obviously in distress, and I was running late. Sorry, no time to help. I didn’t think twice about leaving them stranded and un-helped, but I did make it to the church on time.

In his fascinating bestseller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about how social epidemics are created, developed and spread throughout societies. In a chapter on the power of context and culture to shape us and our behaviors, he focuses on a social experiment that two psychologists conducted at Princeton University based on the story of “The Good Samaritan” of Luke chapter ten.

In the experiment, a group of seminary students were asked to prepare a short talk on a biblical theme and then walk over to another building on campus to present it to a group of undergrads.  In between the two buildings the researches placed an actor dressed as a derelict, slumped down in an alley, coughing and groaning. They then watched to see if the seminary students would stop and help the man or not on the way to giving their theological presentations.

Before the experiment a questionnaire was given to the seminarians as to why they were studying theology. The researches assumed that if their motivation to enter ministry was to help others they would more likely to stop and help the man. One group of seminarians was given the parable of the Good Samaritan to present during their theological talk. Surely that group would stop and help the groaning man.

The researches were wrong on both counts. It didn’t really matter if the seminarians were presenting a talk on the Good Samaritan or whether they went into ministry primarily to help out humanity or not. The only thing that mattered is whether or not they were in a hurry. To one group of students the experimenters would casually say, “It will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.” To the other group they would look at their watches and say, “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago.”

In the group that thought they had plenty of time, 63 percent stopped to help the man. In the hurried group, only 10 percent stopped to help.

Gladwell quotes from the experiment’s authors, John Darley and Daniel Batson: “It’s hard to think of a context in which norms concerning helping those in distress are more salient than for a person thinking about the Good Samaritan, and yet it did not significantly increase helping behavior. Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way.”

What does this mean for us?  I think it means we have to slow down our frantic souls a few gears. The ticking sound of the clock in our eardrums easily squeezes out the “still, small voice” of God (I Kings 19:12), who gently points out little opportunities to bring His love to bear on the world around us. I feel like that so much of the time, rushing through my day just like those seminarians stepping over the derelict on their way to accomplishing ministry goals. Not just ironic but sad.

Lord, set our frantic souls to the rhythm of heaven. Open our ears to hear Your voice. Open our eyes to see the world with Your eyes of compassion.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate