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“But what if you die, and we’re not with you?”
My nearly 12-year-old daughter asked me this last week as we looked ahead to the beginning of my doctoral studies and anticipated the week that I would be spending away from the family.
Her fear is so familiar to me. I grew up with this fear. Every time my parents left for a trip of any length, I thought to myself, “What if they die? What if they die on this trip?” I don’t know if I ever articulated the second part — “and I’m not with you” — but I suppose that fear was there, too. I feared that this good bye would be the last good bye. That this hug would be the final hug, and that my parents would die while I was not with them.
And now I hear it on my daughter’s lips– an echo of my own fear. And I remember the knot in my stomach, the taste in my mouth, the shallowness of my breath as I thought, “This might be the last time I see them.”
My parents are alive and well, in their 60s and living their best life. They’ve gone all over the world, and far and wide on this continent. They’ve gone on little romantic getaways and across the street. And they have never died. Not once.
I plan to be alive and well in my 60s, too. And so, there is a part of me that wants to say to my daughter, “Honey, I’m not going to die. You can trust God. He will take care of me. He will protect me.”
But instead, I tell her the truth. I say, “Yes, I might die while you are not with me. And you would be very sad. Or you might die while I am not with you (my throat catches) and I would be very sad. AND no matter what, God will be there.”
Trusting God does not mean trusting that nothing bad will ever happen. No. God can be trusted to be with us, to be there, no matter what happens… even if The Thing happens that you are most afraid will happen.
“All religion is concerned to overcome fear… The maxim of illusory religion runs: ‘Fear not; trust in God and he will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you’; that of real religion, on the contrary, is ‘fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of’” (John MacMurray, as quoted by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au, The Discerning Heart, p. 221-222).
As I left my girls and husband on Sunday afternoon, there were tears. The girls shed some, and I shed some. Yes, every hug might be the last hug. Every goodbye might be the last goodbye. But my religion is real. God can be trusted to be there. No matter what.