Earlier this week, trying to put my godson to bed, I asked what else he needed to go to sleep. In an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar house, though his mom and dad were just down the hall, this very serious three-year-old was thoughtful. “Well, first, I was very scared because it was dark, and then my mom left the door open, but I was very scared that Ben the dog would come in. But then, I got brave. Now, I’m not scared anymore, but I just can’t get to sleep.” We snuggled, and we sang, and eventually, he fell asleep.
I had forgotten how vividly the dark, and big, shadowy animals could play on kids’ imaginations. Thinking this week about fear, it struck me that my big dog, Ben, has the exact opposite effect on Philip and me. Ben strikes fear in Philip’s heart—for no particular reason than that he’s twice the size and weight of a three-year-old—and for me, on nights when I’m alone at home, I count on my dog’s ears and sharp bark to avoid the exact same feeling of fear. Philip worries about Ben and worries about the dark, while Ben provides comfort for me, and dark winter nights have a calming, soporific effect on me.
But Philip doesn’t know Ben the way I do, and he hasn’t experienced nighttime as much as I have; he hasn’t yet come to know that the setting of the sun can be a welcome blanket of rest. What is it that we don’t know the way God does, and haven’t experienced as much or as fully as God has?
God, in Jesus Christ his Son, tells us, “do not worry about your life.” Just like Philip with the dark and with Ben, we think to ourselves, “well, thanks, God, that’s a lot easier said than done!”
How can I persuade a child who doesn’t know how gentle and sincere my big monster of a dog is unless he experiences the dog enough himself to trust that the big teeth and strong tail are just window dressing on a loving, licking machine?
How do children learn to trust their parents’ word, that it’s safe to go to sleep because there aren’t monsters lurking in the dark or under the bed?
Despite these things that Philip and children do not understand and are still working to learn, there is a way that Philip is right on the money—though his imagination gets the best of him when those shadowy, dark animals creep around the corners of his mind, he at least recognizes that there’s a lot more to life than what he can see when the lights are on.
As we grow up, our fears shift, and often, we come to think that there isn’t much more to life than what we can see. We start worrying about paychecks and tuition bills, we worry about the health of our children and our parents and ourselves, we are concerned about what could happen if dot-dot-dot. We continue to be afraid of those things we can’t see—layoffs and price hikes and illness—but we forget that God is part of what we can’t see, too.
Trust and rest lie in the fact that God is more powerful than money or disease. In the prequel to today’s Gospel passage, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and wealth. THEREFORE, do not worry about your life.” Money and vitamins and health insurance cannot tell us truthfully that we need not worry. Only God can tell us that.
Like Philip, our struggle is to trust that our heavenly Father is telling the truth, that there is no monster under our bed, or in a doctor’s file, or on a bill-collector’s desk, (no monster) that can overtake us. We need not worry, because our parent is the most powerful force in the world, who promises through his son, Jesus, that he will be next to us whenever uncontrollable situations enter our lives.
There’s more to life than what meets the eye, and I’m thankful that that’s Jesus.