Next week, my kids will go back to school.
I will have a third grader, a first grader, and a preschooler. Also coming later in September, a newborn. I’m not sure how my “big kids” got so big so fast (weren’t they just little babies last week?!), and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it — about going back to school in general. This year looks so entirely different than any schooling I’ve ever known. Our family will be participating in distance learning. We’ll be guiding the kids through lessons in our one-room-schoolhouse on the screened porch. If things settle down with COVID, we may be back in the school classroom someday, but for now, all we know is uncertainty.
If I’m really honest, my biggest emotion is fear. In our home learning setting, I fear that I will get everything wrong, that I won’t keep my cool or be able to dig deep for patience, that my kids will struggle and be lonely and fall behind. In a school classroom setting, I fear that when I drop my kids off in the morning, they won’t come home in the afternoon.
Schools aren’t always a safe place anymore. The news of shootings in places we formerly thought of as “safe” haunts me. Movie theaters. Malls. Churches. Concerts. Elementary schools. Classrooms.
Many of us feel unsafe in public spaces today, and possibly for different reasons. Masks and temperature screenings and an invisible virus raging remind us swiftly. Many of these “safe spaces” are still closed, restricted, or off limits. And with the additional stress and fear of COVID-19, my heart continues its push and pull with both the daily curiosity and avoidance of the news.
Part of my emotion is fueled by my own anxiety. Most of it is fueled by actual happenings in the world, in our country, in our state, in our backyards. All of it is fueled by fear.
Fear displaces almost every other emotion. It kicks out joy, and it steamrolls peace. It takes up the space where trust should reside. Fear leaves a bitter taste in what could otherwise be sweet situations and circumstances. Fear swallows me when I give it space. I think I’m giving it an inch, and it unfolds into a mile.
The only way I can even begin to combat fear is to focus in sharply on God and His response to others who have trusted Him in spite of their fear.
Gideon was one such fearful person. Throughout his story in Judges 6, we see God’s patience and care for His fearful servant. God calls Gideon to deliver Israel from the grasp of wayward Midian, and right away Gideon asks God a zillion scared questions. I love the “But what about . . .” excuses he lamely throws out. Gideon asks God for proof. He asks God to choose someone else. He gets all panicky and flail-y in his fear. Then, he gets the job done. And the whole time, the Lord reassures Gideon. He tells Gideon that he is a warrior, that God will be with him, that Gideon will succeed. God doesn’t rush Gideon through his fear; rather, He gives Gideon what he needs to overcome it. At some points in the story (like here, when God reduces Gideons’ troops to mere numbers), God does push Gideon forward, and reluctantly, Gideon trusts and presses on.
There are dozens of stories about fellow fear overcomers throughout the Bible: Jonah, Sarah, Abraham, Esther, Daniel, Moses — people afraid of what or where they were called to be.
Friends, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, who have trusted in the One who crushes fear. It bolsters my fearful heart to bring their stories to mind and to tuck into my heart God’s response of patience and love. He doesn’t make them feel silly about or a slave to their fear, but He offers His strength and peace, placing His great hand on their backs and gently pushing them forward.
Which is just what I need.
For me, being a woman of courage looks like believing in and leaning on the God who demolishes fear. It looks like sending my kids to school, wherever that may be. It looks like believing with all my strength that God stands with us and He stands with our kids. It looks like remembering that God goes first, especially into the unknown. God goes before. He’s ready and waiting for our kids.
They do not walk through any doors alone, and neither do we.
The only One who can accompany our kids and provide everything they need is standing by them already. With our love tucked in their hearts and God by their sides, we have done all that we can do to prepare them for school.
We’ll hold their hands while walking into a big brick building, while leading them to the homeschool table, while walking them into their dorm.
We hold their hands, and God will hold them close.
A Prayer for Back-to-School
Lord, may I put my trust in You, knowing You go before us as we begin school. Pave the way, Lord, that we may see You in each and every turn. Help my kids to work hard, to have a mind open and ready for the kind of learning that goes far beyond reading and writing. Keep my love tucked deep into their hearts. Help them to be brave and kind, whether at home or at school, and Lord, help their mom be the same. Amen.