My daughter has just started nursery. For a three year-old this is a very big deal, so we talked beforehand about what she could expect. A new place and new people. New things to learn; new toys and routines. ‘Mummy and daddy won’t be there’ we said, ‘but you can take Derek.’
Derek is Ruby’s dinosaur; and where she goes, he follows. The park and the toilet and the beach and the bus. She told Derek ‘I love you,’ long before she said it to me or her dad – and the loving is visible in his once chunky frame. After years of squeezing, he’s half the dino he once was.
The night before nursery she was nervous, but excited. But on her first day, she handed me her coat and ran straight into the story circle. One day two, she yelled, ‘see you later’ and went off to find ‘all my new friends.’ Day three was the same. ‘How was nursery?’ I asked. “It was good,’ she said. ‘Derek was a bit scared, but I said, ‘don’t worry Derek, I’ll come with you. Then he was brave and he had lots of fun.’
Of course, there’s a flipside to this. When Derek is lost (and Derek is often lost), it is a crisis of apocalyptic proportions. It’s so serious that unbeknownst to Ruby, Granny and Granda have bought a back-up – a break-case-in-meltdown-Derek. We haven’t had to deploy Derek #2 yet, but we’re a little anxious about whether Ruby might spot the difference.
Toddlers cling to loved objects to give them a sense of continuity and security, especially during times of challenge and change. ‘How cute’ we say, patting their heads. And yet … don’t we often do the same thing? When we’re daunted by loss or transition or change; sometimes we clutch our own little Dereks. Old routines, familiar surroundings, ways of doing things, mantras or things to keep us safe. Without these things, the world seems dangerous and out of (our) control.
In Joshua chapter 1, Israel has just lost its great leader, Moses. Joshua is called to take his place – right when God’s people are called to their greatest challenge. Leading the people across the Jordan is an enormous and terrifying task. And this is why the LORD encourages Joshua with these words:
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-9)
As we step into the future that God has for us, we don’t need a Derek to bring us reassurance. In fact, God calls us to renounce false comforts — little gods that we need to carry around, that regularly fail us and cause us more anxiety than peace. But He also gives us a token of something permanent, something that goes far beyond our false comforts of routine and circumstances. By the Spirit we have the power, the peace and the presence of the LORD Jesus. He is the God who goes before us and behind us — the LORD who has worked for us in the past, carries us in the present and gives us hope for the future.
Whatever we are facing, we can let go of our spiritual Dereks and turn instead to Jesus. In him we can “Be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go!”