A few months ago we had a movie night at church. The movie that they showed was The Tale of Despereaux. I was kind of wandering in and out of the movie doing other things and talking to other people, so I am not really in a position to do any sort of a movie review. But, I do remember one scene that made a big impression on me.
In the movie, the main character is a mouse. But, he doesn't really act like a mouse. He is too adventurous. He likes to read books, rather than eat them. And, this is kind of an embarrassment to his family. So, he is being trained on how to be more mouse-like. In that context he is told "There are so many wonderful things in this World to be afraid of, all you have to do is learn how."
That idea has really stuck with me. I was reminded of it not too long ago when I was walking back towards the office from getting coffee in the morning. In front of us was a mother walking with her daughter, keeping a tight hold on her hand. The little girl - probably about five - was kind of skipping along and looked very happy. As they came near the Metro station, there was a homeless woman sitting on a little ledge. The woman is in the area fairly frequently - she doesn't say anything, hold a sign, or ask for money. She just sits there. In any event, as they got closer, I noticed that the little girl looked at the woman and made eye contact and smiled. The woman looked up and smiled back. As the girl skipped past, still holding her mother's hand, she waved and the homeless woman waved back. Then everyone kind of went on about their business. Other than perhaps feeling a slight hesitation as her daughter slowed down, I don't think the mother even noticed.
I've written before about the invisibility of being homeless, and that is not where I am trying to head tonight. What I want you to see in this story is that the little girl had no reason to be afraid, or intimidated, or concerned that she would be asked for something, or anything else. She just saw a woman sitting there who smiled back at her.
We have to be trained to be afraid. Sometimes, of course, that is good. Don't touch hot things, they burn. Don't walk up to a car if a stranger is offering you candy. Those kind of things. But, the truth is, there really are many wonderful things in the World that we learn to be afraid of. Things that may otherwise fascinate us, or intrigue us, we learn to be afraid of. Think of something that you fear. Is it bugs or spiders or sharks or lightning or heights, or what? If you could put aside that fear, I think you could see that the things on that list are really amazing (I recognize that heights doesn't really fit in, so think of the amazing view).
My daughter right now is going through a phase where, for some reason, she is afraid of being outside - particularly in the dark. A couple of weeks ago we built a fire outside at night to roast marshmallows and hang out. Less than a minute after going outside, she asked about going back in. She asked about foxes and whether they come out at night. She asked about wolves. She worried about snakes. Every sound scared her. At some point, despite the fact that I was right next to her and we were roughly twenty feet from the back deck, she was panicked and had to go back in.
I know that with little kids it is just a phase, but I wanted to use it to illustrate the point. There have been lots of times in the past where she has enjoyed the fire pit and marshmallow roasting. But, something caused her to be afraid of things. Just like the mouse that was being given lessons on how to be afraid. We teach our children. Society teaches us. Be afraid of differences. Be afraid of people that speak another language or worship a different god. Be afraid of taking a risk. Be afraid of things that are not like what we are used to.
I fall into it as much as everyone else. But I think awareness of the issue helps. I also try to think of the words of Paul in Romans - "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." Romans 12:2 (NLT) I don't need to fear something because the ways of the world tell me to. I need to try to see it through God's eyes and let Him transform me and the way I think.
Even though we often focus on the bad, there are a lot of wonderful things in the world. Try not to be afraid when you discover them.