I found a roly poly on the sidewalk as I left my office today. You might call them doodle bugs, pill bugs, or – if you’re a real brainiac – Armadillidiidae (thanks, Google). Roly polies are as much a reminder of my childhood as Saturday morning cartoons and drinking from the water hose. My brother and I used to play with them, build habitats in the backyard for them, and beg our parents to let us keep them inside as pets.
I was afraid that the roly poly would get stepped on, so I picked it up and started to move it into the grass on the other side of the walkway, where it was heading. Of course, it immediately rolled up into a ball and refused to open while it was in my hand. I’m glad there didn’t happen to be any students or colleagues in earshot, because without thinking about where I was, I tried to coax the little bug with kind words, “Don’t worry, little buddy, I’m just trying to help you.” I set it in the grass and told it bye as I continued walking to my car.
As I walked, I thought about how silly it was for the bug to be afraid of me; I wasn’t going to hurt it. Like God is so prone to doing, I felt an impression on my heart whispering, “You are the exact same way, aren’t you?” Touché, Lord. Yes, there have been so many times in my life when I felt like I was being picked up against my will and redirected elsewhere, spiritually speaking. Like the roly poly, it felt traumatic, and I wanted to curl up in a ball and protect myself. Yet, God was trying to speak gently to me the whole time, “Fear not, dear child, I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m doing this for your own good.”
Sometimes we’re just walking along the sidewalk of life when it feels like a cosmic hand comes swooping down and carries us off to a strange place. We aren’t expecting grass, because we were just walking on concrete! What’s going on?? It can feel scary when we are so focused on our own footsteps that we don’t notice that God is trying to redirect us for our own good, which is his will (not ours).
Did you know that depending on the English translation, there are about 350-500 references to the word “fear” in the Bible? About a third of those references are in the negative (“fear not,” etc.). The Lord told Isaiah (41:10) not to fear for Israel. Boaz told Ruth (3:11) not to fear, because he would care for her. An angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20). Can you imagine how these individuals might have wanted to curl up under the covers and hide from the reality of a new day? And yet, God is so faithful to us. He compels us not to fear, instead, to trust him.