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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Four-Letter Word Which Could Have Stopped Christmas

It always amazes me how I can read the same Bible story a hundred times and suddenly have this great epiphany about it on the hundred-and-first reading. Or, in the case of the Christmas story, thousand-and-first, because I’m certain I’ve read or heard the Christmas story a thousand times during the course of my life. Probably more. Thanks to an ‘Advent Christmas Book Tree’ I’ve been doing with my girls this year, I’ve read it in different forms ten times already just in the last ten days.

Our Advent Christmas Tree, with a different Christmas story each day

This year, one phrase in particular has struck me – every time.

Don’t be afraid.

Mary was told it. Joseph too. And the shepherds. Over and over, “don’t be afraid”.

Fear. It’s a powerful thing. Have you ever thought about what might have happened, how different the Christmas story we all know would have been, had its main characters not heeded that command?

What if Mary had been so terrified by the angel, his news and what it might mean for the rest of her life that she’d fainted, or refused to accept the message? What if she’d been so afraid of making a mistake or not being worthy enough that she’d told God no way.

What if Joseph had been too afraid of what might happen to his reputation to marry Mary? What if he’d divorced her quietly after all? Chosen the family and descendants he would one day have over the knowledge that his ‘firstborn son’ would never truly be his?

What if the shepherds had convinced themselves they were seeing things – after all, it was late at night and they’d likely been deprived of real social interaction for a while – and decided amongst themselves not to say a word about the ‘angel’s visit’ to anyone?

I’m certain God would have sent Jesus anyway, humans in no way able to thwart God’s plan, but can you just imagine how different Christmas would have been?

I’m sure I noticed that particular command more this year because of what God was doing in my own life. As I read over and over the words ‘do not be afraid’, God was patiently hammering it into my world.

See, I was terrified. And that fear was stopping me from doing what God had asked me to do. Only I didn’t want to admit it, because, of course, then I’d actually have to do something about it. Like not be afraid.

If you’ve been following my blogs, you’d know I’ve been writing books for a while and working on getting them published (here if you missed it!). I feel like I’m finally getting close. I’ve had interest from a couple of literary agents (the bridge to the publishing world), one in particular who’s been asking questions and been really encouraging. Each time they’ve had advice alongside the encouragement and, seeing the wisdom in it, I’ve followed through with it and sent back the revised version. 

This last time, I thought I'd done everything I could do. Now, I simply had to wait and see if they would accept or reject me. Fine. I’d done that before. It’s the reality of sending proposals.

Only instead of a yes or no, they asked for more information. I'd prepared myself for everything but that. Instead of replying or doing the little bit more work they required - nothing compared to what I'd already done - I sat there and cried, feeling so disappointed and unqualified that I couldn't do anything. I made excuses, telling myself they were valid. I was sick, I didn’t have time to do more work on the proposal, being Christmas there were lots of other things I had to do, and the agency had said there was no rush.

It wasn’t until two weeks later, when I was making all these excuses to a friend that I realised the truth – valid as they might have been, they really were just excuses. Despite all of them, I could have done it. I'd done it before. I hadn’t yet because I was scared. Scared that after all this time and effort, I still might get rejected. Until I sent the information back, the ball was in my court – unrejected, but not exactly moving anywhere either. It was that realisation that gave me the strength to do the work.

See, I’d determined one day years ago on a school camp, looking up at a tiny little platform at the top of a tall tree, that fear wasn’t a good enough reason for not doing something. From that day on, I decided that I would never let fear be the only reason. Physical limitations and common sense, certainly. I have never and will never go on Dreamworld’s Giant Drop. That’s not fear. That’s a complete hatred of free-falling. Nor will I do abseiling for fun. It’s totally not worth the stress of wondering whether my arthritis-affected hands will hold me.

But going on the giant flying fox on the camp that day, talking to people I don’t know, making decisions about the future – fear wasn’t, and isn't, a good enough reason. And that included sending proposals to potential agents.

That night, I ignored all the excuses, sat down at my computer and answered the questions they'd asked. I emailed them back the next day. Once I realised it was fear holding me back, it lost its power. The worst that could happen was that I get rejected, and honestly? I’d probably cry for a little while and have a couple of days of feeling down but then that passion that’s gotten me this far would kick in and I’d realise God’s still got me and my writing in his hands and I’d start again. Because I know that one day I’ll get there. One person on the other side of the world doesn’t hold my future. Only God has that power.

Fear could have, literally, stopped my story. It could have stopped Mary’s, Joseph’s and the shepherds’.

But it didn’t.

This Christmas, and coming into a New Year, don’t let fear stop yours. That’s my prayer for you this Christmas.

Don’t be afraid.