Crippling fear. It's something that I became uncomfortably used to. I tried to push the tragedies of this world away, but it didn't help. That only led to living in ignorance and oblivion. Let me tell you, ignorance is not bliss. It's like building a glass bubble around yourself temporarily, only to have the whole thing shatter around you when you hear a bit of news that is one of your millions of worst nightmares. So, for the most part I lived in fear, letting the sin, hatred, tragedy, and grief of this broken world grip my heart and my mind daily. I lived with the constant emotion and belief of looming danger, impending pain, and the threat of suffering.
I don't quite know when it started. When I was a child I used to have vivid dreams, in fact I still do. In my hometown was this abandoned building that we'd drive by occasionally and I would have nightmares about it and then would be terrified whenever we'd have to drive past it. I remember telling a teacher about it once when I was only in early elementary school. I don't know how it came up, but it was on my mind more than I'd like to admit. When I was even younger than that an older kid in my neighborhood told me that German Shepherds were dangerous. So for a season, every dog I saw I was terrified of, even tiny little things like our Swanson. I would hear adults talk about things like political upheavals or adversities and I would have nightmares that I was living amongst these terrible things. Even worse, I would vow to myself that I would never visit that place where that bad thing happened. As a child I was content to live within the confines of my safe, familiar, small town world.
As an adult, my fear became much more life altering. I hate to admit that only a few years ago I had a "bad feeling" about getting on a flight back to Birmingham with Jason and I actually demanded that he rent a car and cancel our flights. Everywhere we'd go I was always checking for the nearest exit in case something bad happened. I'd imagine how something might play out and how I would react. When we'd visit larger cities, I would often be distracted by false premonitions that something tragic was about to happen, and I'd miss the opportunity to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds around me.
My biggest fear, though, was how my fear would effect our children. If I couldn't get on a plane when it was just Jason and me, how in the world would I ever be able to let my child(ren) out of my sight? How would I allow them to do things with family members or friends, or travel someday? Would I allow them to go to a movie, even if it was just with Jason? Would it be possible to let them sleep alone in their room at night without hovering over them for fear that someone might break into our home? I knew that if my fear crippled me then, it would surely debilitate the lives of my future children, my marriage, and my life.
Occasionally, I would bring this up to those closest to me. I talked about going to counseling and I talked about how I planned to make things different, but none of those things really made much of a difference, or I just couldn't bring myself to make them happen.
Someone close to me shared that they too had experienced debilitating fear as a child, and their experiences were not unlike my own. She shared that the root of her fear was a deep spiritual battle, and through lots of prayer God healed her of this and she now longer was bound to the lies that fear allows to creep into our brains. I was happy for her, but envied her faith, her healing, and her new found courage through Christ. But, rather than live in jealousy of someone I love, I began to pray.
I'm not sure how long it took, but through a series of what could only be described as miraculous events brought about by the power of prayer, God did heal me of this crippling fear. This happened about one month before we learned about Brighten's arrival, which was about two months before she was born and became our daughter. Even typing those words brings tears to my eyes because all I can think is how good our Heavenly Father truly is. He didn't have to heal me or calm the waves of discontentment that fear brought into my life. And, if He hadn't chosen to bring healing into my life when and how He did, He would still be the same good Father - I truly do believe that. But He did, and for that I believe it is my duty, joy, and responsibility to share what He has taught me through this experience.
Becoming and Overcoming
As you can imagine, I will probably always struggle with the temptation to run back to the comfort of my fears. But I've learned that fear leads to disobedience, fear leads to a lack of faith, and most of all fear leads to a life that runs counterintuitive to the life the God calls us to live as followers of Jesus. I used to believe that my fear was just me being street smart, and even at times I believed it was compassion for others who had been through whatever tragedy was causing my fear. But I've come to learn that that fear is nothing more than utter selfishness.
Fear is about about self. Self-preservation. Self-reliance. Self-importance. Self-centeredness. Self-indulgence. These faithless qualities are bred by fear. Fear is believing that God is not actually big enough to love you more than you love yourself. Don't get me wrong, tragic things can and do happen to followers of Christ, but that is not due to a lack of God's love for them, it's due to the sinfulness of mankind that dates back to the fall. What my fear said is that my love for God was dependent on how the sin and brokenness of the world effected my life. It was all about me. And that is absolutely not why God sent Jesus to take on my sin and yours.
It took several months to realize that God had begun to heal me of the thorn in my flesh (2 Corinthians 12:6-8) that was my fears. I wish I could say that I noticed it sooner, but it took some time to realize that I wasn't changing plans or created mental scenarios to torment myself. I'd like to say that my posture since then has been one of understanding toward those who struggle with fear. And I'd like to say that I have since been grateful for the healing work God did in my life. But I can't say that, as much as I wish it were true.
I do, however, experience much brokenness over this, probably more than anything else in my life, and I find myself clinging to the truth that God's Word tells us about fear, and those who were crippled by their fear.
For example, I remember the Israelites as they were led from Egypt and how they began longing for the days of slavery for fear, and lack of trust, for what God was leading them to. I, unfortunately, can identify with Peter as he denied knowing Jesus for fear of being associated with him. I think of Jonah, running from the Lord even to the point of telling the fisherman to throw him overboard to escape the wrath of God due to his disobedience and fear.
I also rejoice with those who, through the Holy Spirit, stood up in the face of their fears. I think of Daniel being cast into a den of lions, or David standing up to face the giant. I remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and their commitment to only worship the one, true God, even facing the threat of being burned alive in a fiery furnace, and having a willingness to endure that punishment. I admire the strength of those in the early church who testified to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in spite of what their culture, government, and even religious leaders mandated. Ultimately, I love how 1 John says that perfect love (the love of Christ) casts out our fear.
Fear is not new, and for me and many others, it will probably always be a temptation of comfort that I can make a choice to run to. But I pray that through my worship, through my words, and through my life, God will be glorified because faith always overcomes fear.
Recently we bought a book for Brighten that is written by the same author as the Jesus Storybook Bible. The book is called Found and it's about Psalm 23, but on a level that even a 22 month old can understand. We read this book almost every night and it has truly been good for my soul to be reminded of the truths of this psalm.
The whole book is illustrated with a shepherd leading his flock, but there is one little lamb that he is taking special care of (at first Brighten thought the lamb was a puppy and that was super cute). This lamb is the narrator, and on one page there's a picture of a terrible, dark storm and the little lamb looks so scared and is all alone. That page says, "Even when I walk through the dark, scary, lonley places..." and then we turn the page to see the shepherd racing after his little lamb and it says, "I won't be afraid. Because my Shepherd knows where I am. He is here with me."
Friend, even when we are afraid, when fear or anxiety grips us, God knows where we are. He is with us, chasing after us and wrapping us in His almighty arms. We are never alone.
If you are like me and have struggled with debilitating fear, either in the past or in the present, please share your battle with someone you trust. If I've learned anything from this experience it's that the enemy hates vulnerability and openness, and he loves for us to keep things to ourselves. Sharing our struggles is not a weakness, it's allowing light to break into darkness. Please, share your story.