Friday, May 23, 2008

From the Worries of a Dad of a Five Year Old Girl

When I read yesterday that Stephen Curtis Chapman's five year old daughter, Maria Sue, died earlier that day after being accidentally hit by a vehicle driven by her teenager brother--I cringed and avoided reading the rest of the story or watching any videos covering the tragedy. It was too painful to think about. I have a five year old daughter, Grace (in the picture), and it brings me much worry and fear to think about her being in the same shoes (or me in the father's).

I have to admit that this is something I worry about on a regular basis--"what if something happen to my kids?" What if they got a form of leukemia? skin cancer? what if they got hit by a car on the corner by our house? what if...?

Quite often I fight this worry with an argument that goes something like -- "OK, Daniel, be rational. What are the odds of that happening? Not very high."

Or, I will do what I did this morning as I was leaving the house (and the kids were already playing in the year) -- I will use the Chapman accident as a reminder to be extra careful-- so I said to my wife: "Molly, we need to be extra careful to always watch for kids when we are backing out of the driveway!"

Now, of course it's wise to learn from experiences. We would be foolish if we failed to glean from the the experiences of others. But this is hardly a sturdy foundation to build my faith on--I WILL BE MORE CAREFUL AND THEREFORE AVOID ALL ACCIDENTS.

As I reflect on the death of Maria Sue and especially as I imagine the grief and pain of the parents, I was reminded of a chapter I read a few months ago from Ed Welch's Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest. In it, Welch gave me very helpful advice in fighting the sinful practice of worry about the "what ifs" of life by pondering the promise of tomorrow's grace with a fresh perspective. Here are some excerpts (from pages 139-146):
If you read only one section, read the 3rd section.


Worry and fear are always looking ahead. When the thing we dread is upon us, we usually do well. Anticipation is the killer. In light of God's generosity and patience and his offer of comfort and wisdom we should expect him to speak to us about the near future, and he does.

He tells us that there is nothing in the future that can interfere with our kingdom mission. If the difficulty you anticipate comes upon you, you will receive grace to know God's love and grace to love someone else (1 Cor. 10:13). If you get in the car accident you dread, you will have grace to know that God is with you, and you will have grace to bear fruit ever in that difficult situation. If your loved one dies before you, you will have grace to know God's comfort and to shine brightly as you reflect your Father's glory. If poverty knocks on your door, you will have grace to trust your King and know that poverty cannot detract from your privilege of being an ambassador who blesses others in his name. As children and stew­ards who aren't in control but trust the One who is, the assurance of such grace is a blessing.

Were you hoping for more? Well, as you might guess by now, there is more. All you have to do is keep the manna story in mind [see Exodus 16]. Remember that God gave the Israelites grace to trust and obey him when they left Egypt, just as we are given even more grace for faith and obedience when the wil­derness is ahead. But they were also given more unexpected grace than they could have predicted or imagined.


You never hear God reasoning this way with anxious people: "What are the odds of that happening? You don't need to worry." "Don't worry; I won't let bad things happen to you." God does not promise grace that remove hardships.

If our child is very sick, we want to believe that grace means that God will heal the child. If we have just been laid off from a job and have no financial cushion, we want to believe that grace means we will be hired tomorrow by an even more stable company, and that the old company will apologize for its egregious mistake with a huge severance package. But that is not the promise. God does not promise that earthly life in his kingdom will be easier than life in our own kingdom. Instead, he indicates that in the kingdom of heaven we will be familiar with the sufferings of Christ. We will experience hardships. We will not be spared the difficulties of life. Compared with life outside the kingdom, suffering will be more intense, if only because we love others more deeply.

This seems to take us back where we began. What we fear really might overtake us. The bridge really could fall. The plane really could be infiltrated by terrorists. My spouse really could be unfaithful. At first, this would seem to drive us right back to our attempts at controlling our world. Though such attempts might not help, at least we feel like we are doing something.


Among my assorted fears and anxieties is the fear of suffocation, espe­cially through drowning. It doesn't exert itself too often; it usually makes an appearance after news reports of tsunamis, movies such as Titanic, and celebratory pile-ups after a World Cup goal or NFL touchdown on TV. I begin wondering just how many teammates it will take to finally crush the hero on the bottom. What does tomorrow's manna, future grace, have to do with such fears?

It doesn't say that I will be spared suffocation. What it says is that, if I am called to death by asphyxiation, I will have grace when that time comes. What does that mean? I don't know. I can't imagine such grace. I can't imag­ine anything that would make drowning tolerable. And that is exactly what we should expect: at this moment, I don't have grace to drown because I am not drowning! Of course I will worry if I try to envision a drowning scenario. I will project the grace I have received for today onto tomorrow, not compre­hending that I will receive grace as needed tomorrow.

We have to go slowly on this one because it is so essential in our battle with worry and fear. Let's say that you are taking a class, and the first thing the instructor does is hand out a test. As you scan it, you know nothing. Little signs and symbols, words you have never seen—your anxi­ety level rises with each question. You have failed the class before it has even begun!

Then the teacher interrupts, "Did I tell you that this will be your final exam? You don't have to take this now, and you don't know any of this now, but trust me. By the time the class is over you will actually know this. You'll be amazed at how well prepared you will be."

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Nothing has really changed. There will be a final exam at the end of the course, and you would fail it if you took it now, but you have no worries. When the time comes to take the test, you will have received the "grace" that you need to do well.

Are you worried about the future? You are looking at tomorrow as if it was a final exam and you haven't yet taken the class. Of course you panic at the thought. But you haven't considered that you will go through the class before you have to take the final. You will be given all the grace you need when you need it.

What form might that grace take? Be careful here. When we try to imagine grace in some future situations, we might still be resting in our­selves. We want specific confirmation that there will be grace, and we want to calm ourselves not by trusting in the Gracious One but in seeing the future. If I am called to drown, I don't know what grace I will receive. Hav­ing never had it, I can't imagine it, and since God gives much more than we ask my prediction no doubt would fall far short. It is enough to know that I will receive grace. I will know the presence of the Spirit and I will die, or be rescued, in a way that pleases the Lord.

My heart goes out to the Chapman family. I pray and trust that God will lavish them with grace at this time. Here is a video I watched this morning at Fox

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