Last month, our youngest daughter, Beka, let me borrow a 30-day devotional I had given her for her 22nd birthday. It’s a small book of writings and prayers by St Teresa of Avila, with a bold, challenging title: Let Nothing Disturb You. I am touched that my daughter takes her faith seriously and loves to share with me the wisdom she has gleaned. I am also drawn to the book’s title as I long to live a trusting, peaceful life—to be undisturbed and unafraid. Perhaps Sacred Scripture is filled with encouragements to “Be not afraid” because God knows we are at our best and most able to love and serve when we are unafraid.
I grew up in a serene farm setting in Central Illinois, but as my father’s alcoholism progressed, our home turned into a volatile and sometimes violent space. It was not peaceful. Fear was a very real and dominant force in my life throughout my childhood. At college, lying in bed in my dorm room my first night away from home, I realized that it was the first time I had felt unafraid in a very long time!
That being said, fear runs deep in me, and even though now I feel safe, saved, redeemed, and in the process of transformation, at times this 65-year-old woman can still feel like a scaredy-cat. It is my most vulnerable weakness and can keep me from experiencing and giving real agape love. A favorite read of mine is Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. It is an allegorical novel about a young girl named Much-Afraid who allows God’s love to transform her into a brave, radiant young woman. She allows the Chief Shepherd to take her to the heights of love, joy, and victory. Her journey involves facing and standing up to her relatives Dismal Forebodings, Gloomy, and Spiteful. I have read this little gem countless times, both in English and in Spanish. My two youngest daughters grew up on the children’s version. Our daughter, Rachael, used it for a book study in Spanish while we were living in the D.R. Wanting to be free of fear has been a deep desire of mine and a motivation to draw near to God’s safety and power. I want to be brave and I want my three daughters to be brave women.
Recently, I did a spiritual exercise where I was asked to choose twelve life events which have shaped me. Twelve is a significant number in spiritual terms—the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve disciples, and the twelve steps of recovery programs. I started the exercise by reading Psalm 139: 1-18 and then listing my twelve events. I clearly saw God’s sustaining presence and persistent, loving care for me, especially in my most fear-filled experiences. So often I am afraid because I feel I will lose something I have or not get something I think I want. The more I meditate on God’s sustaining love and care for me, the more I can trust God with my future. That is the priceless gift of freedom God offers to each of us.
Isaiah 43:1-3 describes it well: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
The truth of my life is that I have not been overwhelmed nor consumed. My God has been with me. I need not fear.
So back to Teresa and the little devotional I have enjoyed spending my mornings with the past thirty days. Each day’s reading contains a thought to begin and another to end your day and one to ponder all through the day. Here are a few of my favorites…
“Patience gains all things.” I can be patient when I am unafraid and trusting God’s plan for me and for others. My middle daughter, Rachael, reminded me recently that we do not know what obedience to God looks like in another. I want to honor others as they walk out their journey as I honor my own uniqueness in walking out mine. When I let God be the judge of others, I can remain undisturbed.
“It’s alright to feel helpless.” It is good for me to know how much I need God, how dependent I really am on Him for everything. I can trust Him to care for me in big and little ways.
“God is willing to wait for me many a day, even many a year.” I take much comfort in knowing that the spiritual journey is for a lifetime. No need to hurry. When my heart is not troubled, I can hear God more clearly and see the world and others through His compassionate and merciful eyes.
“Let me not try to fly before God has given me wings.” Recovery programs talk about staying “right sized.” Being at peace with who you are in the moment and staying true to that “You.” Staying in the moment—today’s 24 hours—is a key to living without fear. Trusting that God knows best for you and not comparing yourself with another or wanting another’s gift.
These are just a few of the nuggets of truth that I have gathered this past month as I spend time with God. I know that ultimately, only God can take away my fear and make me brave. I have heard it said that sooner or later we all rise or fall to the level of our friendships. I want to tend well my friendship with my Creator. That friendship will dictate the quality of my life and my level of trust and peace.
Last weekend we celebrated the graduations of two of our three daughters. Our youngest, Beka, received a B.S. in Exercise Science and our oldest, Blythe, received a PhD in Neuroscience. They passed through much fire and water (as Isaiah describes) to garner these degrees. As our family celebrated, I looked at all four of our children with deep awe and gratitude. They are all brave. And I heard God whisper to me, “Fear not, Cherry”. Once again, I sensed His sustaining presence and persistent loving care.
Good reads this past month—
Let Nothing Disturb You by Teresa of Avila
Love A Guide for Prayer by Jacqueline Syrup Bergan and Sister Marie Schwan