In 2005 I was pregnant in Djibouti. I planned to give birth here, even though I was slightly terrified of the prospect. I had to sign a paper with the hospital, promising to not sue should something go wrong and that I understood I was being told to leave and that I was choosing to stay. I wanted to have my baby at home – not home like house, but home like country, with my community – and not disrupt the rest of my family’s work and school routines. I wanted to identify with the women who give birth here every single day and aren’t given the option to stay or to go.
Still, I was nervous. One aspect of God’s character became deeply personal over those nine months: victorious. God the victor. Victor over shame and fear, over sin and sickness, over death. Victorious! A victory in most powerful evidence on the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus, in the empty tomb. Victorious!
I gave birth on 9/11/05 and we gave our daughter two middle names. One is a local name and the other is Victoria, to remind us of this beautiful, powerful, victorious God.
People are definitely afraid right now, around the world, in 2020. Uncertainty increases our fear, anxiety over an unknown future or outcome. COVID-19 is making the rounds, disrupting lives, and when will it end? What will be the outcome? Who will we be through this? Who will we be when this ends? When will it be back? Will we be prepared?
The disciples lived in fear, too, after Jesus’ death, before the empty tomb.
Most of them abandoned Jesus on the night he was betrayed. Few stood vigil at the cross. And then they congregated in a room together, grieving and confused and probably frightened of what would happen to them because of their public association with this now-dead criminal.
Eventually, these same fearful people step out into the light. Something drastically changed that transformed them from scared to victorious. The main thing, the primary thing that happened, obviously, was that they discovered a resurrected Jesus!
But before that, before they touched his hands and feet, before they walked with him on the road to Emmaus, before they shared a meal with him of fresh fish, they took baby steps out of their fear and toward victory and I think we can learn from their example for this current world moment of anxiety and dread.
How did they move from fear to victory?
They gathered together in the room. They chose to be together, to corporately grieve and talk about their concerns, their anger, their worries. With quarantine and social distancing, gathering might not be the best option. But we can still continue our lives together. I’m struck by the reality that I have spoken on the phone or video calls with more people in the past three weeks than I have previously. People I haven’t heard from in years. We are hungry for connection and we will do it, even through screens. We cry together over Zoom and laugh over Skype. Our hearts still touch even while our bodies don’t.
Do something productive. The women who had followed Jesus brought oils to anoint his body. In their grief, confusion, and fear, they could still be productive.
Eat really good food. I don’t know what the disciples ate in that room together, but they must have eaten something. Later, we know it was fish. With those walking to Emmaus, it was bread.
Be together, at least with those who are safe to be with.
Maintain traditions and customs that are meaningful to you. Jesus was buried in accordance with Jewish burial customs. As I write, the season is Lent, and then Easter, and then Pentecost. Keep doing the Easter egg dying, the song singing, the lent meditations.
Find beauty. Jesus’ tomb was in a garden. I don’t know what the garden looked like, but I imagine it was lovely. Find some flowers, light a candle, close your eyes and listen to birds sing, hug your children close.
Feel free to cry. Mary cried and Jesus spoke to her. There is no shame in tears in moments of deep stress and fear. Let it out, process emotionally and let your body do what it wants to do.
Share good news with people you love. Mary couldn’t wait to tell the disciples about seeing Jesus. Find people who will rejoice with you when you’ve moved into victory, and share it with them.
What practical steps can you take to move from fear to victory?