One evening this spring, my youngest looked out the window during family read aloud time and whispered, “Mom, a bunny!” Sure enough, on the edge of the thicket that lines our property, a baby bunny crouched. A little ball of fur so tiny it looked as though you could cup it in a single hand. We stopped reading to watch the bunny munching quietly; and, of course, we named him Peter.
Over the last couple months, we’ve watched Peter grow. Almost every night, he comes out of the thicket to eat grass and leaves just as the sun is setting. Always alert. Always alone. Sometimes my third-born quietly steps outside to watch him at a distance, setting out lettuce leaves and carrot sticks for our little friend. The bunny eats his fill then slips back into the thicket through a little entrance directly across from our living room window.
Peter has grown a lot since we began our nightly viewings. But even though he’s a lot bigger, he still seems so vulnerable. Often he freezes in place and crouches low in the middle of his dinner. His big, beautiful, dark eyes always scan as he eats. His little ears move like radar, constantly twitching to pick up sounds of danger. He knows he’s small. He knows the world is big. There’s so much that could go wrong. Even so, there’s something in Peter that still brings him out into the vulnerability of my open lawn every night at dusk. Maybe it’s his hungry belly or instinct. Maybe it’s trust.
When we think of biblical analogies of trust, we often head straight to the gospel of Luke, to the lilies of the field or the birds of the air. Nobody calls forth the humble bunny as an icon of faith. But after watching Peter for these months, I’d like to add a third to Jesus’ lineup of pictures of trust. The bunny is less freewheeling perhaps than the other two. Certainly less glamorous. Bunnies have few defenses; they’re scared most of the time. (They’re herbivores — prey — after all.) But there is no getting around the kind of trust they must muster to live each day. When I look at Peter, crouching as he eats, venturing out each night into the open grass, I realize his life also is a picture of the life of faith. Not all faith is warrior brave.
Many days since Rob’s death, I’ve felt a lot like Peter. I sometimes wonder if “brave” is even written in my DNA. For most of my adulthood I have wrestled with the fallout of trauma-related anxiety and PTSD. Now I must learn to live without my strong, wise, beloved husband. I look out my window at Peter; and I see myself, nervous as life compels me to do the next necessary thing. Since Rob died, my life is filled with so many new tasks, and my survival and flourishing mean that I must venture forward to do them. Even if I’m afraid. Even if my trust feels thin. If I had my druthers, I’d rather hop back to the rabbit hole and enjoy bread, milk and blackberries for supper.
In the last year, I’ve received the lovely compliments that I am “brave” or “strong.” When I talk to other widows, they tell me they often hear the same things. Very rarely do I feel brave or strong. On the contrary, most days, my life is an act of bunny-like trust. Moving forward while still unsure. Venturing out in vulnerability while learning to shoulder my sorrow. Tearfully (and often, fearfully) taking the next right step alone. Learning to balance alertness and care without slipping into hypervigilance. Often it feels less like bravery and more like sheer survival. Everything was easier to do with Rob at my side, and I miss him there. This new life is hard to do.
Some days, I envy the lily of the field who waves effortlessly in the wind. Better yet, the bird of the air who sails on the breeze. Lilies don’t have feelings. They don’t understand the risk of stepping out in trust to eat your evening meal in the wide open. They don’t try to live their lives even as they watch for danger, for the neighborhood cat who might end it all. And some birds get to be hunters — falcons or hawks. Perhaps trusting wouldn’t be quite so hard if I could fly above it all. If I had the power to catch my next meal.
Of all the icons of faith, I see that Peter and I are kin. We shake nervously as we step out in trust, but we keep doing it. Night after night. Day after day. We venture forward toward the Jesus who promises to give his beloved every good thing, desperate for the sustenance that can only be found in the wide open life of faith,. We may not be outwardly strong and noble creatures, the bunny and me. But we can choose to trust. We can be faithful.
Recently, a pet bunny I know died of shock. It’s a common problem for rabbits. Thunderstorms, the howls of coyotes at nighttime — these and other frightening sounds, sights and smells can do poor bunnies in. Their rapid metabolisms can’t handle dramatic events. As I look out my window at Peter eating alone at dusk, I marvel. His fragility makes his faith all the more amazing to me. Stepping out into the open requires so much vulnerability, so much trust. What he craves must be stronger than his fear of the neighborhood cat or his dislike of thunder. His life depends on his willingness to trust.
My life too depends on this willingness to trust. So I pray for deliverance from fear, for Jesus’ presence in uncertainty. I pray for the mustard seed of faith that Jesus promises will move the mountains that stand before me. And over it all, I pray for the beautiful comfort of his goodness, his gentleness and his care. For the assurance of his strong arms around me, protecting me from harm and guiding me in paths of peace.