Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
Passing a field the other day, I noticed a flock of Canadian geese browsing in the grass. Traffic backed up at the stoplight, so I took the time to watch them. Almost all the adults held their necks tall and straight. Underneath them gray fuzzballs milled around like bumper cars at the carnival, learning to graze for grass and bugs. Occasionally an adult head would disappear into the tall grass and come up with a mouthful of grass. The adults took turns between watching their young ‘uns and feeding themselves. It’s that season. Soon they will be marching their fuzzballs in procession across the road and stopping traffic. I always stop.
Sometimes I follow an elderly person into an establishment, and she will turn around to apologize to me for “being slow.”
I can race around with the best of you, my ADHD-ish brain buzzing like a chainsaw. I learned about going slow as my mother’s life was in decline. I have to go slow when out with my daughter (when she chooses to walk rather than use her chair) or going up stairs behind her. I flinch when she feels that she needs to apologize to me for being so slow. There is a deep tendency to rush in to help someone in the slow lane go faster. It is rare for one to gear down one’s self and join the slow moving procession. I have started to thank the lady who apologizes to me for being slow at the check out or the entry way. Thank you for slowing me down. I stopped the chain saw buzzing in my brain for just a few moments. I’m learning to slow down myself these days, and see what I’ve been missing.
I love the final scene in the old movie “Big,” about a kid who wakes up as a grown up one day. It’s a parable about rushing our kids to adulthood. The last scene is a school crosswalk, where the word “SLOW” is painted on the asphalt. What if we learned to go slow with our kids, instead of pressing them into roles they are not ready for? Well, some kids would just move back home and take until they are 30 to grow up. And that’s exactly what they are doing, especially young males. What if, instead of pushing harder in anxiety about our kids growing into maturity, we slowed down with them? The ADHD brain takes up to three years (if ever) to catch up with its neurotypical age cohort. No amount of scolding, begging or pleading can change that. People sometimes think that there must be exercises that will make my daughter’s muscles stronger. By definition, her disease prevents that and greater harm is done by overstressing her fragile muscle fibers. Welcome to the slow lane. It’s really not too bad over here.
What if we could move beyond worry and anxiety to just go slow, be watchful, be mindful?
Be ready at any time, Paul writes.
My mother had her father’s shotgun, and my dad had a shotgun in a gun rack. My brother made the gun rack in woodshop in school as a gift for my father. They hung it on the wall….in the bedroom. It never occurred to me to question this. It was in the bedroom because…….? To be ready in case an intruder came in the middle of the night when you were sleeping and could be taken off guard. One night our two dogs started barking like crazy in the middle of the night. Mom could see the light on in the car. She went to the gunrack and pulled down a shotgun. She went to the door “in her shimmy tail” (as she told it in years to come) and with the excited dogs running around her feet, pointed it toward the car. She forgot to take off the paper taped to the barrel. It read “THIS GUN IS NOT LOADED.” Being ready is harder than it looks.
Paul says to be ready to give witness to the hope that is within you. I love that. Readiness to tell about why you have hope. I understand disaster preparedness. I believe in smoke alarms and C2O alarms and I have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and in the basement. I understand being prepared to defend oneself. I have tried (maybe in vain) to coach my children with the words they need to defend and protect themselves, and practice with them. David had a teacher in Somerset who always threatened to call her students’ parents if they did not tow the line with her. I began to resent that threat. I didn’t like that she would try to instill such anxiety in my already anxious son that he would fear his mother’s involvement. So I coached him with the words. We practiced them in the car. “Call my mother. Please.” If someone needs to threaten to call me, they need to call me.
I understand being prepared to give witness to my fear. It makes me feel stronger if I have a plan, if I’ve worked out the words, if I’ve rehearsed the strategies to protect myself and my family. Being prepared to give witness to our hope also requires a daily rehearsal, the many small moments and habits of a lifetime that make that which is impossible to merely believe as real as what you already believe.
But Paul says to be ready to give witness to the hope. Hope that is within me. That’s not wishful thinking. There is hope in all of us, but to what do we attach our hope? Is it hope anchored in something weighty enough to hold onto us when the storm comes? If our hope is only that the dikes won’t fail, the gun will protect us (with the paper sign hanging from the barrel) is it enough? Hope born out of fear is not hope. It’s a fire insurance policy on our way to hell.
Hope and perseverence go hand in hand. Hope is slow. Readiness is fast. Hope takes time to notice, to wait, to persevere. Readiness is a moment’s notice. Hope notices the moments and waits, confident of whatever it is attached to at the bottom of the sea, sometimes invisible but always secure. To have hope one has to believe in something larger than one’s self. Readiness is about everything within my power and intellect to do. I’m glad for readiness when the pan goes up in flames and the smoke alarm goes off and the fire department comes. Hope is something else again, and I’m glad for it with a deep abiding joy. Hope is about everything within and beyond my power and intellect to do. Hope is what we give our children that lives on after us for generations to come. It’s bigger than one lifetime’s vessel can hold. It’s what I hang onto beyond fear and anxiety and preparedness and readiness. Hope is why I can slow down. Beyond my powers lies something else. Hope is how I can abide with the transitory stuff in this world, the already and the not yet, the not knowing and the knowing too much.
How is it Paul, that I can be ready to give a witness to my hope? I don’t know that anyone has ever written the curriculum for that. It is the curriculum of our life together, however. Tell our stories. Tell them again. Slow down to listen. Stand tall in the high grass. Protect the young ones and give them time to learn how to graze and cross the street. Stop for their procession. Slow down and thank the old woman who turns around and apologizes to you for holding up the line. It’s only a line.
I love the words of Desmond Tutu captured in a hymn in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (the cranberry book).
Goodness is stronger than evil. Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours through God who loves us.
This is not wisdom you can pick up in the drive through. You have to slow down. Notice. Hope. Listen. Otherwise it’s just too much to believe. It requires more than a lifetime.