The following is a discussion of a topic suggested by a reader. In no way do I consider myself an expert in this arena nor am I a counselor. These words come only from experience and from what I know of God.
Fear gets me right in the gut. The actual gut. The where’s-the-nearest-bathroom gut. I think that’s why they call it gut-wrenching fear. I am not a pretty panicker.
Fear is very individual. What throws me into a frozen pit of despair doesn’t faze the person next to me. The things that make me sob don’t even scratch most peoples’ surfaces. But I can walk daily through some mighty heavy stuff that would flatten a lot of folks. That’s just the way God made people — different from one another. Wanna talk Enneagram? Me neither. Suffice to say we’re distinct characters from those with whom we share the planet, but we have certain qualities in common. Experiencing fear is one. A very basic one. Possibly the most basic one.
From the start of our lives we want to feel safe. The needs of newborn infants are basic — food, shelter, and safety. (I’d say love and care and lullabies too but that’s my grandma’s heart speaking and we’re on a different subject here.) Freedom from fear makes a tremendous difference in the development of babies and children. That’s a fact.
As infants, children, teens or adults, the foundational building block of so many of our reactions is fear whether we realize it or not — the “What Ifs” of life. What if I’m not successful or look good or sound good? What if my spouse/child/parent/friend becomes ill or dies? What if I become ill or die? What if this is a wrong relationship? What if I can’t trust him or her? What if I am a poor parent? What if God doesn’t love me? What if I don’t love God? The list is endless. And individual.
Fear stacks up like blocks underneath us and becomes this unwieldy pile of mess threatening to collapse with weight as we add more and more to it with passing years. Think of Jenga on steroids. Just one wrong move and the whole thing comes crashing down and controls our reactions, makes us choose paths that align with whatever fear made our stack collapse in the first place, and drives us to restack our Jenga game around that same fear with even more care to protect it in order to keep the doggone thing at bay. Our fear foundation gets taller and wider and more complex. And more controlling. I know this. Been there.
Beginning in 1999 and continuing on up through the next several years, my Jenga game was stacked around fear for my family members and the possibility of disease or death. If you’ve lived long enough you’re familiar with those types of seasons of life where one thing after another after another . . . and that was one of those times in our family. My mother passed suddenly in 1999 and then that same year two of our young children were hospitalized with critical illnesses. Our son was close to reaching the arms of Jesus as he and I rode a helicopter to the hospital. Then less than two years later after our family had transitioned cross country with my dad to new lives serving in a new church, Dad had a massive heart attack. Now I tell you these things not to be dramatic but to make a point. Life happens. And in the midst of it, fear.
Dad spent a week in the hospital with our hopes going up and down and up and down. He passed to heaven at 10:45 p.m. on a Wednesday. It was March in Idaho so still cold and snowy. Around midnight Bob went to get the car in the hospital parking lot . . . we had to go home and tell our children . . . I was walking out through the lobby on the arm of our friend and pastor, Les. And my knees buckled. Fear won. Strong loving supportive arms picked me up and walked me out. Prayed over me. And fear took a hit. But it would return.
The weeks, months, and even years that followed those times were a battle to overcome fear. The grief was suffocating. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Maybe it was normal or it could just be my makeup as this particular child of God (I’m a slow healer). Of course, other challenges came along as they do in a family with several children and in my weakened state they brought back old apprehensions and anxieties. Now, decades later and since those days that I was fighting fear on a constant basis, I’ve been quick to recognize it in myself and in others, though it doesn’t always manifest itself the same way in each of us. I’ve spoken before on these pages about my battle with a quick tongue and the help I receive from scripture . . . my mouth is an offshoot of fear. No doubt. Your reactions may be different.
What are your fears? Are you challenged just to get out of the house? To try something new? To speak to a neighbor? Or are you facing a mountain at work that seems unconquerable? Money got you down? Are you embroiled in an unhealthy relationship but lack courage to address the problems? Well let me reiterate what I said at the beginning that I am far from expert. However, I know where to turn to fight fear. And to Whom.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:8-11 KJV
My fears were all wrapped up in my flock, my family. Probably still are whenever I allow them to stack up underneath me. The good tidings of great joy which the angels spoke about to the shepherds so many lifetimes ago are still just as sweet today . . . “great joy.” Sound too simple? Well, so am I.
I’ll take that joy over fear. Any day. Every day. It gets me out the door. Here’s a song that gets stuck in my head occasionally. I’m hoping to get it stuck in yours.