My four-year-old wanted to be the angel Gabriel in the church nativity play, but the part was already taken. She has agreed, instead, to play the part of the angel with a singular message for the shepherds: “Fear not!”
This is, by far, the most important message God has ever given us. Even those of us who know that other important truth, that we are unconditionally loved, continue to walk around in fear. So we are sent messengers to tell us to stop being afraid. It’s the first thing that angels always have to say to anyone, not just around the Christmas story: “Fear not!”
It’s also the singular message God has ever dropped on my own head like a piano: “Fear not!”
Eight years ago, my mom’s cancer had recurred. My brother was graduating from USMC Boot Camp and she could not go to see him. I went with my dad and stayed in a room in the Marine Corps Motel, built for family and friends who want to be on base. I remember calling her from the motel room to see how she was doing, and I remember how annoyed she was that I was worrying about her, unchanged, dying of cancer. I loathed the responsibility of filling her absence at my brother’s graduation. I just wanted to be his sister, not the only woman present from the family. I feared the responsibilities of the role I had risen into, not only for that day, but as her caregiver.
I opened a drawer under the motel telephone, because I love finding motel stationery: cream-colored sets of two or three sheets and an envelope in a simple, flappy folder. Instead, I found the Gideon bible. It was almost a stereotype to open a motel drawer and find a bible. I picked it up and flipped across the pages with my thumb, just for the feel of the onionskin pages. My eye fell on yellow highlighting – in one singular place in the whole book. The highlighted verses were this: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
This message is for me, because I am Worst-Case Scenario Girl. I am that girl who goes from “is that a bump or is it a tumor” within two seconds flat. I worry the worst in everything, as if by worrying, I have eliminated all the possibilities before they can take me by surprise. I worry the worst in everything, as if by means of anxiety, I can control the outcome.
My mother died of cervical cancer. I fear dying from cancer, as she did. I am scared I will leave my children motherless. American women are checked for cervical cancer every year, Dutch women are not. When I called the doctor this week to ask for a check-up, I was ready to pitch my mother’s cancer story, ready to pay for a procedure that isn’t covered here by insurance, ready to deal with that tone of voice on the other end of the line insinuating I was a paranoid hypochondriac. I have done this every year I have lived abroad since my mother died. I got the expected response from the assistant on the line, who didn’t let me make an appointment. She said I could wait for that five yearly check-up, as all Dutch women do, or call my insurance company.
So I hung up the phone, and I threw in the towel.
My resignation had nothing to do with bucking the system. It had nothing to do with being tired of the fight.
It had everything to do with being scared. I threw in the towel, and I threw it at my fear. I decided I had better things to do than spend my energy responding to it. I had better things to do than worry about dying the way my mother did.
The words my daughter, the angel, will proclaim on Christmas Eve – “Fear not!” – mean that even in the worst of circumstances, I will still have no reason to fear. But people, being people, never understand this until they are there, in that worst place. Believe it or not, the message remains the same. Even when we are holy nomads, guarding our only child from the people who want to kill him, we are not alone. Even when we are sick and the prognosis is bad, we are given the means to see ourselves through it.
That’s the message the angel has for you. That’s the message God gave me in the Gideon bible, months before my mother died – the worst thing I feared at the time.
While we walk around now, already knowing we are loved, we really can believe this: we will never have a reason to be afraid.
© 2014 Anastasia Hacopian