For a Woman Who Was the Linchpin of the Family
1 John 4:18
For 227 days, Pi drifts in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger that crawled into the lifeboat as the ship sank. It's not a cute, cuddly story about a boy and his kitten - no Disney buddy songs, no Calvin and Hobbes. It's an engaging, dangerous story about faith and survival.
As Pi adjusts to his grief and his terrifying situation - terror outside the boat, terror inside the boat - he plots to rid himself of the tiger. But in time, Pi discovers it's the tiger's presence that gives him the courage and determination to survive his ordeal. The more he faces his fear, the better he's able to overcome it.
It's quite a metaphor: We may need to live with what we fear, what we don't understand and what challenges us to survive a greater trial. Faith and fear are partners in the boat together. Faith and fear come together in a funeral service. We gather to express our faith in God amid death, but we also come together as people who fear what the future might hold for those of us left behind. Today we need the comfort of God's presence, but we also need the strength of God's courage.
World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker said, "Courage is being able to do what you're afraid to do." As someone who spent 22 days adrift in the Pacific on a raft after a plane crash, Rickenbacker knew what he was talking about. Sometimes we're faced with situations we didn't choose but in which we have to choose how we'll act.
Our fears are real today, but rather than ignore or cower from them, we must tame them and even embrace them. We must recognize that only when we face our fears head-on do we have power over them.
1 John 4:18 tells us that "perfect love casts out fear." That's interesting phrasing. When Jesus "cast out" a demon, he called it by name. In those days, knowing someone's name was to have power over them. Jesus named the demons, faced them and away they went. When we can name our fears, understand them, look beyond them in love, we have power over them, too. We have to come to terms with our "tigers" and tame them with love.
This isn't a day to keep your grief and fears to yourself. It's a time to name them, talk about them, and give them - and your hopes - to God.
We do know that God understands our fear. One of the most often-repeated phrases in Scripture is "Do not be afraid." That's a tall order, though, because it seems there's always something to fear.
What God might say to us is a little more realistic. You're going to be afraid, but understand that it's perfect love - love for God, love for neighbor, love for yourself - that casts out fear, tames it and helps you live past it.
Many people have told me this week that Nancy held everyone in the family together. That says a lot about her, but it also means her passing leaves a big void and the fear of uncertainty. Her loss has deposited a rather large tiger in the boat with all of you as you try to navigate the future.
The good news, though, is that such tigers don't need to be feared, and you don't have to run away from them. You can overcome them with love - love for God and for each other.