hard to be brave
It was Piglet, of course, who said, “It is hard to be brave when you are only a Very Small Animal.” This is the same Piglet who is introduced to us as “The Piglet (who) lived in a very grand house in the middle of a beech tree and the beech tree was in the middle of the forest, and the Piglet lived in the middle of the house.” His house is In the middle of the tree which is in the middle of the forest and he lived in the middle of the house. It seems that dear Piglet craved security. He was nervous and anxious about everything. As such he is us.
It is hard to be brave when you are a Very Small Animal. Fear is a human problem and not just because there is much to fear but because the fear itself can hinder us from living which ironically is one of our greatest fears. Not living that is. Paul Tillich wrote of the three dimensions of anxiety: the anxiety of nonbeing (i.e. death), the anxiety of meaninglessness and the anxiety of fate (uncertainty). There is a distinction made between fear and anxiety. Fear it is said, has an object while anxiety is free-floating, a kind of generic dread but they are related, the difference being the clear particular knowledge of what is immediately feared or not knowing, just anxious about what whatever might be a threat.
Fear is nothing new in the human story. In the Bible, I am told, there are some 300 references to fear, one of the most beautiful of which is this word from the psalmist; “The Lord is my light and my salvation; what shall I fear?” There is something else that about the word fear in the Bible and that is that as the English word in translation from the Hebrew and the Greek it is used for a wide range of emotions in the original languages, everything from a sense of awe and immense respect (see “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God”) to a heart-pounding fright. While it is perhaps literally true that we respect whatever we fear if for no other reason than we find it worthy of its ability to hurt us there is quite a difference between awe and anxiety and so as usual we have some limitations for understanding simply because the words themselves can’t quite keep up with the experience we are trying to understand and explain. Nevertheless when all is said and done we all know what fear is. We probably even know how destructive fear can be. What we may not know is how to overcome the fear that keeps us anxious, how to be brave. A wise person once said that being brave does not mean that the fear is gone; it simply means that we no longer let the fear stop us from doing what needs to be done. Bravery acts in the face of fear, it does not banish fear. Only love can do that. Love, it is written, casts out fear. Casts it out.
It is not enough to say that we need only to face our fears and they will vanish. According to the good book here we need some help for we are very small animals and we cannot overcome the fear all by ourselves or by sheer force of will or by simply wishing it so. Neither can we just pretend that there is nothing to fear. According to the psalmist any encouragement we might find will come from outside our fearful selves. It will come from God, from a supreme confidence that God will “hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble, will conceal me under the cover of his tent, will set me high on a rock.” In short it is the confidence that God will protect us, deliver us, keep us safe.
This kind of assurance is shattered by the facts of life that we see and experience every day. Where was God when Haiti was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost? Where was God when the family caught between the armies of war who are hit by a misguided bomb? Where was God when . . . (fill in the blank-the list does not end). What are we missing here?
Maybe we are thinking too small. I am guessing that when we hear that God will protect us we think it means that we will not be hurt or that we will not die but maybe this protection does not protect us from being hurt or even from dying but that even in dying we are safe in the arms of God and that even death is not to be feared. While this may seem impossible for us we should not underestimate what God can do when we trust God unconditionally with our lives.
Another one of the questions that I received for preaching in Lent was: who can we trust unconditionally for all things? Trust, what is it exactly? It is one of those things that cannot know simply by reading about it or using words to define it, it is something one must do to know what it is and what it can do. You may remember how the writer of the Cloud of Unknowing said that we cannot think our way to God we can only love our way there. The same is true of trust. Trust is not something that we can gradually come to accept when we have enough evidence that God is trustworthy. It is something that we can only know when we let go of whatever holds us back, a form of surrender that requires a steady and persistent intention, returning again and again to surrender again, to return again. One does not love God in a moment but in every moment that one loves God. So it is that we trust God by trusting God, trusting God until we trust God. We are impatient. We have lost the gift of waiting. It is no accident that the psalmist also says: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yea, wait for the Lord!” Wait for God and God will surely come. Trust God and you will trust God. Love God and you will love God.
Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he told the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord. This business of trusting God and overcoming fears is a long struggle that requires repeated and intentional action. It does not come in an instant but in many instances where the heart goes first and the mind follows until the mind catches up and the heart and mind are one and what we dared to trust we now believe and the belief changes how we see and what we feared is no longer so fearsome for we are not ourselves but have God who is the love that casts out fear for what is there to fear if we need not fear even death?
What is a better example of what we fear than the cross? A cruel and brutal instrument of violence that stands in for all the ways we kill love in the world, the cross is so significant to the Christian experience not just because it is where Jesus died but because Jesus faced what we fear and overcame it not by going around it or escaping it or making it less than it was but by taking it, taking it all with real pain and real death to show us the truth that we turn away from at our loss; that the worst there is to fear is real and it is painful but it is not the end that indeed, God has not forsaken us but lifts us up and holds us forever in light and joy. God saves us from the trial not by eliminating the trial but by being there when the trial is over. Fear and pain and death are simply no match for eternal love. Our fear of death is a fear of perishing; the fear that our lives have no meaning and that everything is random. But for those who trust God, there is a new confidence in the midst of our uncertainty. Love and life do overcome hatred and death. This is the message of the cross and why it is so important that the cross is at the center of our life in the Christian community. Without it what do we have? Love overcomes pain and death. And that is the meaning of our life. We are here for a while to learn love and to be love in the time that we have and to overcome what we fear and be free and in turn help others to be free. Even time cannot hold us when God is with us.
Non-being, meaninglessness, random fate? What shall I fear if the Lord is my light and my salvation? Stand firm in the Lord and be not afraid.
Even Piglet overcame fear. It can be done. It is hard to be brave but it is still possible. God is never mentioned in Winnie the Pooh but even there God is present. Piglet’s courageous moment came when it was he who had to be brave to save his friends. In other words he couldn’t do it alone. It was love that made him strong just as it is trust in God’s love that makes us strong enough to remain faithful through the days and nights of our life on earth through the trials of living and dying unto that day when God gives us wings to fly into the light, safe and secure forever in the arms of God. Trusting that love is coming makes us strong and glad where we are even now. It is as simple as that.
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