Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Only Thing to Fear...

I’m particularly persnickety about what books we choose to read aloud as a family.  I have my own personal stack to be read, as does each of my children, but we like to keep one family book near the dinner table (or on the screened porch) to be read together after dinner.  The “to-be-read” list is a long one, so it is a rare occasion when we read a book out loud a second time.  However, when I found an out of print copy of George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin from one of my favorite collections (Illustrated Junior Library), I decided to make an exception.  I read this book to my boys several years ago, but our youngest was not old enough to be included.  At that time, I had a teenager, a toddler and 4 and 6 year old boys in the house, so I was too bleary-eyed to remember much of it.  In reading the book aloud again (with more sleep and life perspective under my belt), I feel like I’m reading it for the first time.

Several days ago, we meandered into a scene where the little princess, Irene, is alone in her bedroom.   Bounding in through the open window is a frightening creature.  If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll recall that there are subterranean goblins who are plotting against people living above ground.  The goblins only come out at night, and they have pet-like beasts which dwell with them.  It is one of these horrifying creatures that  invades the room.  Irene is terrified, and instead of running up the stairs to a place of safety, she reacts out of fear and darts from her room, down the stairs and out the door of her palace into the dark of night.  “It was foolish indeed – thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure.”  And then came the line that stopped me.

“….. But that is the way fear serves us; it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.”

Now I don’t consider myself a particularly fearful person.  Of course, there are the biggies – death of a loved one, chronic illness, safety for our children from the evils of the world.  But I’d suggest that we all are fearful at a much deeper level.  Our fears are often unspoken and often unrealized, and we have become extremely sophisticated in our management of them.  Although our outward behaviors appear to be unrelated, at their core is the same propelling motivation: “ I can make life work on my own terms.  I will not be disappointed. “  And therein lies the great mystery of the human condition:  the very strategies we implement on a day-to-day basis undermine the true joy and contentment that we are ultimately seeking.

~Some of us manage fear by being quiet… Others by talking incessantly.

~Some of us manage fear by achieving…. Others by failing to try.

~Some of us manage fear by erecting high barriers around the heart...  Others by demanding more out of relationships than they could possibly provide.

~I try to avoid the fear of disappointment by engineering "the ideal"... My husband tries to avoid the fear of disappointment by wanting too little.  We both strive to control our worlds in very different ways.

Same disease.  Different symptoms. We all are uniquely gifted in the way we try to become masters of our own little universes. Thank goodness our strategies don't work.  If they did, well, then I really would be in control of my life which would be overwhelming.  Nevertheless, we keep trying. Hoping that we can control life and subdue the fear of ultimate dependence.

Oh –  back to the rest of the story. The Princess and the Goblin is worth a read for children and adults alike, so I won’t give away any “spoilers.”  But I will say that eventually, Irene learns to react less from her own fear and insecurity only when she decides to trust the one who loves her deeply…. Regardless of circumstance.  She can’t see the big picture and has to rely blindly on the character of the one who does.  A lesson for us all.

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