“No, I am not a girl,” he answered; “–although,” he added, changing his tone, and casting himself on the ground at her feet, “I have given you too good reason to call me one.”
“Oh, I see!” returned Nycteris. “No, of course!–you can’t be a girl: girls are not afraid–without reason. I understand now: it is because you are not a girl that you are so frightened.”
–The Day Boy & The Night Girl, George MacDonald (1882)
Now I’m not at all sure women spend more time afraid than men do, but if that is the case, it’s not without reason. Maybe we are more fearful because we have more to fear. In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker reminds us, “Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.” ((Full disclosure: I’m quoting Amy Poehler quoting Gavin de Becker on this because I haven’t started The Gift of Fear yet but I devoured Yes Please like nobody’s business. Don’t judge.)) The issue isn’t necessarily the presence of fear but its scale and scope. How big is it? How much of our lives does it consume? What are its consequences?
A fearless woman is not long for this world, but a woman who is brave enough to trust her intuition, her experiences, her people–a woman who is brave enough to trust herself–she is a ferocious creature. In their ordinary routines of life, men can be fearless. They tend to have the luxury of being so. Women must be brave. Even in our mundane comings and goings, women know fear but consciously choose to risk living their lives anyway. Sometimes that means a spirit of adventure and do-it-anywayness, and sometimes it means refraining and re-evaluating. As Glennon Doyle Melton put it so perfectly on her blog Momastery, when she writes about her daughter’s decision to wait to pierce her ears until she’s ready rather than when her sister does it, “Trusting yourself to make decisions about your own body is so brave. You are BRAVE… caution is often a sign of courage… often NO is as brave an answer as YES.”
Although I could barely sit through the raw and disturbing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when a friend dragged me to see it in the theater, one scene resonated with me. The serial killer has lured a victim into his basement and begun the typical bad-guy-revealing-the-plan speech. He muses,
Let me ask you something: Why don’t people trust their instincts? They sense something is wrong, someone is walking too close behind them… You knew something was wrong but you came back into the house. Did I force you, did I drag you in? No. All I had to do was offer you a drink. It’s hard to believe that the fear of offending can be stronger than the fear of pain. But you know what? It is.
Can I ask you a favor? Don’t fall into this trap. Don’t let the fear of being rude override your better judgment. Be brave, dear ones. If you know in your gut that something is wrong, it’s not only okay but encouraged to run away and cry like a little girl. Because you know what happens to that little girl? She grows up strong and healthy and wise. She grows up brave, with an empowering sense of boundaries and of what she’s capable of. She grows up knowing that she can be her own hero and get herself out of a sticky situation before it starts, no white knight needed.
There’s a common saying that the phrase “fear not” appears 365 times throughout the Bible, giving us encouragement for each day of the year. In reality, the math doesn’t add up quite that poetically, but it is definitely a popular subject with God, whose people seem to find themselves in frightening situations a lot. Sometimes we rest in that happy, snuggly place where there really is no fear, where we know that we are safe and loved. Hopefully that’s where most of us spend most of our time. But at some point, all of us have reason to be afraid, and I’ve got good news for those of us who beat ourselves up for not being able to just shake it off. We’re not always meant to. Over 50 times in Scripture God blesses our fear, even nurtures it. God tells us repeatedly to fear God and to follow where God leads. Our intuition is a gift from the God who created us and loves us. What if that niggling little voice trying to protect us is a whisper of the voice of God? What if the fear itself is an invitation to listen to the Holy Spirit moving within and around us? What if that crying little girl is closer to God than we think?
Maybe that’s the case, and maybe it isn’t, but your intuition is still a gift God gave you. It’s yours to nurture or to ignore, to trust or to turn off. It’s meant to protect, not paralyze, so don’t give it too much weight. But don’t give it to little either. Respect yourself enough to trust your instincts, then say a prayer for peace in your decision to love yourself as you would love others, as God loves you.
Godspeed, little ones.
*Part of the reason I adore C.S. Lewis is that he began to believe in God while reading one of George MacDonald’s fairy tales on a train. The truth beneath the story shined through, and influenced his personal faith and the beautiful stories of Narnia that flowed from it. MacDonald, a Scottish farmer’s son who went on to become a minister and professor, wrote this particular feminist fairy tale in a time when women had no political rights and could still be forced into marriages against their wills. Through the cooperation and mutual respect of his female and male protagonists, MacDonald paints a better picture of humanity and of the love and character of God. It is a delight, and I highly recommend you read it here.