“Then the [women] went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed.” (Matthew 28:8)
“Fearful yet overjoyed”? Aren’t those emotions opposites? Reading this passage from Matthew, I never understood that description of how the women felt. We read in Matthew’s Gospel that the women go to the tomb, see an angel, and are told the great news of Jesus’ resurrection. Why, then, would they go away fearful? I had always found the combination of fear and joy puzzling … that is, until I became a mother.
In fact, this Easter is my very first Easter as a mother, and as I read that familiar passage in Matthew’s Gospel this year, the emotions of the women began to make sense. When my son was born, I was excited to meet him, to hold him, and take him home. When the nurses weighed him and examined him in my labor and delivery room, I remember I could not take my eyes off of him. I was simply mesmerized! And I was anxious. I was waiting for an answer – “Is he alright? Is he healthy?” I had been a mother for less than an hour, and I was already afraid he might be hurt. I knew right away that I wanted to protect him from every single instance of pain and suffering, and I also knew shielding him from every inconvenience was not within my power.
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Recognizing my powerlessness led me to fear. I imagine my mix of emotions when I became a parent is like the women’s reaction to Jesus’ resurrection. They were excited to see Jesus again, and yet they probably had a flurry of questions and anxieties rolling around in their heads, too. They probably wondered, “How did this happen?” “Is Jesus okay?” I imagine they were likely wondering about Jesus’ future. After all, Jesus had just been executed a few days before. “What would the Jews do to Jesus when they find out he’s alive again?”
In the midst of all my questions and mixed emotions, I eventually learned two very important things in that labor and delivery room. First, when it comes to worries — logical or not — we essentially have two choices. We can remain paralyzed with fear like the guards at the tomb (Mt 28:4) and ponder all the terrible things that could happen, focused on our powerlessness to protect our loved ones from every illness and injury. Or, we can turn to the one who does have control — God. I knew in meeting my son I had to surrender myself and my child into the arms of God, trusting him to take care of us in this life and the next. We can thank God endlessly for every joy-filled moment we have with our loved ones. We can be like the women at the tomb who do still encounter fear, but they do not remain in fear. Instead, they let celebration and happiness overshadow their fears.
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While I was in the hospital, and even after being discharged, I could have focused on the pain and suffering I was enduring or the sleepless nights caring for a newborn. In fact, for a while, I did focus on the negatives. I complained a lot. And after some time, I realized I did not want to complain any more. My baby would only be this tiny for a short time, and I wanted to soak in every cuddle and coo. I chose to move my thoughts from complaining to prayers of thanksgiving. When I noticed myself venting about having to feed my newborn again or begging my baby to please go back to sleep, I started listing off my thank you’s to God instead. Thank you God for my health. Thank you God for keeping my baby safe. Thank you God for my husband and his generous heart. … On and on I’d thank God until that “glass half empty” thinking faded away and my complaints seemed insignificant. Shifting our thoughts from worries to gratitude is not easy, but as this new mom can attest, it is definitely worth it.
May we all, this Easter season, find the strength to trust our loving Father every day, and give thanks even in times of trial for every good gift.