Alongside My Son
“Waves of Fear”
For a period of time shortly after his birth, Sam seemed to be trying to get back into the womb! I’ve read that the first three months of life are sometimes called the “fourth trimester” for this very reason. Whether held in someone’s arms or gently placed in his bassinet, he would scrunch into a ball with his legs curled up and arms pressed to either side of his face. Ginny often put him into a type of sling that comfortably allowed him to naturally assume the fetal position. He loved this and often fell asleep immediately.
Who could blame the little guy for wanting to go back? First of all, he was much more familiar with that environment and, secondly, it seems much safer. You have that wondrous amniotic fluid to cushion you, surround you, and muffle loud noises. And think about this: food is pumped directly to you. No effort on your part at all! Sure, there’s not much room in there; but then again, wide open spaces can be scary. It’s a big world out here, full of uncertainty, full of anxiety. There are times when in utero seems like floating in your own personal sea of blessed calmness and holy serenity.
Speaking of oceans, Sam went to the beach for the first time when he was a little more than eight months. When he first gazed upon the big sea, his mouth literally dropped open in amazement! That is a priceless memory! Holding him in my arms that day, I tried to imagine what it must be like to glimpse the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. He had no context for what lay before him, no way of anticipating or wrapping his mind around such an experience. I thought Sam was remarkably calm, his countenance much more serene than the choppy ocean about ten feet away.
Serene, that is, until I set him down on his own feet and the waves rushed around his ankles! Mind you, I had a firm grip around his little waist; but he still began to cry, actually trembling with fear! Maybe it was the relatively cold temperature of the salt water; or, perhaps the sensation that the ground was moving underneath him with the receding tide. The bottom line was that he was afraid.
For all the differences between the different versions of the parable, both Matthew and Luke have the third slave justifying his actions because of fear (Mt 25:25; Luke 19:21). While things certainly do not end well for this trembling fellow, I appreciate his honesty. Often when adults, like me, are scared, we desire to hunker down somewhere we perceive as safe. I can easily recall times when, rather than allowing love to lead me out of myself and towards others, I have buried and stored away my gifts, both material and spiritual. Perhaps you can relate. The parable teaches, however, that “I was afraid” is not an acceptable excuse. It seems that the opposite of faith is fear, not doubt.
So I’ve come to believe that, for all the advantages and privileges we can offer Sam, one of the most important gifts is freedom. Specifically Ginny and I need to give him the freedom to fear. By no means am I referring to putting the “fear of God” in him. I never want him to be afraid of me. Nonetheless I do think it’s important to allow him to wade into the water, experience new activities and situations, and thereby come into contact with awesome powers greater than him. As was true on his first day on the beach, this is not always pleasant. But you hope and pray that, with time and experience, the fear recedes like a wave back into your consciousness. In the future, I hope that Sam won’t be afraid to get his feet wet. There is joy to be discovered while playing in the sparkling surf.