Feb 17, 2017

The Fine Line Between Perspective and Fear

By Anna Ilona Mussmann


I find it hard to forget a story that was recently making the rounds on Facebook. In it, a mother vividly recounts a car crash (she was driving) in which her little boy died. In conclusion, she encouraged parents to savor every moment with their little ones, because after all, none of us knows how much time we have left.

No doubt the post was helpful to many people. But it wasn’t something I should have read. The line between perspective and fear is a thin one.

I have heard young mothers comment that when they struggle with a parenting choice, they try to always err on the side of least regret. For instance, if they can imagine themselves regretting that they let their child cry in bed alone--or that they said no--or that they administered punishment over a small incident--or that they were too busy--they will instead err on the “safe” side.

I can see how that approach might feel right. Yet emotional safety is not the goal of life. It is true enough if, God forbid, my child died in the night, I might regret that I hadn’t sung him as many songs as he wanted that evening. I would surely long for more everything with him. That wouldn’t necessarily mean the decision I had made was the wrong one.

It is most likely that my son will grow and thrive and become taller than I am. I want him to be a man who can handle being told “no,” who has internalized a sense of right and wrong, who has learned self-control. I try to make parenting decisions with long-term goals like these in mind. To do otherwise would be to make his life harder, later on. It is not in his best interest to strive always to make him happy now in case he doesn’t see tomorrow.

Furthermore, there is a deeper problem with the “parent-like-there’s-no-tomorrow” school of thought. I am a sinner. Apart from any false regrets that might assail me (regrets born of the stark reality that my chance to indulge my child is over), if tragedy struck, I would also suffer from real regret. I will look back and see my blunders and my sin. There is no way that I can give my children everything on any given day. There is no way that I can look back and say, “Yes, I maintained a proper mindset and loved my children enough.” There is no way that I would not feel a gut-wrenching need for more tomorrows to try again.

I am already keenly aware of the fragile beauty of human life and love and of the privilege it is to be a mother. I have seen enough loss in the lives of people around me to know that much. Perspective is important. Yet by showing us how much we have to lose, the quest for perspective can send us perilously close to fear. Fear tempts us to turn our eyes away from God’s promises. Fear can even encourage unconscious superstition along the lines of, “If I worry enough, bad things won’t happen,” or, “If I can manage to be grateful enough, good things won’t be taken away from me.”

Scripture points a different direction. The seventh petition of the Lord’s Prayer begs, “But deliver us from evil.” In his explanation of this line, Dr. Luther says, “We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all manner of evil, of body and soul, property and honor, and at last, when our last hour shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.”

The story I read on Facebook was an admonition to look at death in order to live more fully. The Lord’s Prayer instead tells us to look ahead to eternal life. There we see the blessed hope that the fears and suffering of earth cannot swallow up what is good. It is not helpful for me to live in fear of tragedy. Instead, it is far better to remember that my children belong to a God who loves them and who numbers the hairs on their heads. It is far better for me to commend my life and my family into God’s hands and say, “Amen.”


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After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist.


Image source.

3 comments:

  1. I hadn't paid attention to the parent-like-there's-no-tomorrow stories. But you are so right, the perspective is not right. I often quote Martin Luther -- I read this "somewhere" and hope he really said it! -- who said, "If I knew Christ were coming back tomorrow, I would plant a tree today." That is, we do what we know to be the right thing, with the long-range perspective, always.

    And what you said about commending ourselves and our loved ones to the Lord is so important. In that we demonstrate our faith, and learn to trust more and more that whatever may happen, God in His omnipotence is able to work everything for good.

    Thank you, Anna!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard it as an apple tree, which is charming, although it appears the story is not documented in any old sources. Still, as you say, it makes a wonderful point.

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