MaryAlice’s post inspired me to write a response. And let me start by saying that I really respect her honesty. I, too, have struggled greatly after Newtown. It has caused me to think, and to rethink, about many things. The toy guns in my house have been in my thoughts, but, more importantly, the reality of my own fear has been very unsettling.
My serious battle with fear began over 10 years ago. The death of my daughter Therese really changed me as a person. After she died, I saw danger everywhere, and I grasped desperately to try and protect my heart from ever suffering like that again. In the weeks and months after her death, I dreamed of burning buildings with loved ones trapped inside. I woke in a cold sweat on many nights. These temporary and very intense periods of anxiety and fear waned, but the fear of having my children die never really went away. It is always there, deep in my mind, and an event like Newtown just brings it back to the surface.
When such terrible violence and evil strikes, it is very hard to process. In the days following the massacre, gun play in my home bothered me. I was unable to watch the news, and, most dramatically, I was unable to send my son Gus to school. I had him stay home for a few days, because my heart just couldn’t handle any place resembling Sandy Hook Elementary. I could not deal with those fears immediately. I needed time.
But then I went to confession, and I talked to my pastor about all these struggles. My lack of trust and anxiety is a general theme of my confessions. It was suddenly more intense after Newtown, but it was not new. I told him that I am just a different person since Therese died. And while in some ways I am better, this is one area in which I feel much worse. As my husband likes to quote Joni Mitchell, “Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.”
My Pastor reminded me of a very entertaining story about his own mother. When he was a young boy, his family went to the beach in the summer. One year, his mother heard about a boy that drowned in the ocean, and she didn’t want the family to go to the beach anymore. After his father intervened, she said, “ok, but nobody is going in the water!” My Pastor then said to me, “Can you imagine, taking the kids to the beach and not letting them go into the water?!” We both began to laugh.
But I am HIS mother. When my anxiety kicks in, I become that mother who doesn’t want my kids going into the water. I didn’t want to send my son to school after the shooting (and I didn’t for 2 days!). I am that mom who hears about a child dying in their sleep and then can’t go to sleep myself without checking on each of my children. The thought of burying another child makes me cower in fear.
But the answer is NOT to give in to irrational fears. I know this, and my Pastor reminded me of it again in confession.
Instead, I must pray for peace. Not the peace of this world, but God’s perfect peace. I must ask for extra grace. Grace to trust and not to be afraid. Grace to know that this world, this life, is not my ultimate home, nor the home of my children. Grace to not hold on too tightly. Grace to be brave, and to teach my children how to be brave as well. “Perfect love drives out all fear.”It takes God’s supernatural grace to know that Therese is home. She is where I want all of us to be one day. My motherly heart sometimes looses this perspective. I try to hold on too tightly. I think I can control too much.
Being brave is really about choosing to love when it is scary or hard. It is choosing love over fear. It is using your will to fight for God. It is thinking of eternity and not our present earthly life.
I have talked to my sons (and daughters) about this, and spoken to them about how they should use their weapons to fight for God. Today they pretend to slay demons with their swords, their guns, and even their lightsabers. Today, they pretend to rescue women and children (after they have created the car accident or dropped a “bomb” on them!). At nightly prayers, they ask me whether St. Michael has a big sword, or perhaps a gun. Right now they fight with their toys and their muscles, someday I pray they will fight with their will and their faith.
Banning toy guns as a response to Newtown concerns me when it is a response motivated by fear. Fear should not dictate our lives, and we should not teach our children, especially our boys, to live scared. Perhaps we need to take some time to process our emotions, but we should strive to work through our anxieties and only make changes that are proportionate to the real threat.
I should emphasize here that I have not spoken to Mary Alice about this specific topic, so I don’t know exactly what is motivating her decision to ban toy guns. I only suspect fear is at play because, to me, believing that Nerf guns will lead a boy to violence is a stretch. And with time, and perspective, little boys playing with toy guns should be no more upsetting to us than a little girl pretending that her doll is sick or dying.
As a mother, I often want to retreat from the world. I can’t listen to the news and hear of death and killing and wars. My heart is too soft. But I can’t really hide from any of these things. And I certainly cannot hide from the most basic truth – we are all fighting a great spiritual battle, and we are called to fight it every day.
I must fight and give my children the tools to do the same. I may never be called to stand in front of a real gun, or save the life of someone in a burning building. But that doesn’t give me permission to forget the battle. The devil’s main weapon against me is fear. And my fear is greatest when I forget the spiritual battle and focus on the things of this life. And so today I am choosing to fight, and I will wisely begin on my knees.