Monday, January 27, 2014

To Fear, or Not to Fear...

A few nights ago, I was awakened by my youngest son.  He had had a bad dream and was too scared to go back to sleep.  So he crawled into bed with me and snuggled up close.  Within minutes, he was sound asleep…

Every Friday night in our house is Family Movie Night.  With a house full of boys, more often than not, we choose an adventure movie.  When the action gets intense, my younger ones will jump up and run to my husband and me, curl up under our arms, hide their faces and peak out through their fingers.  Only then do they feel safe enough to watch and see what happens next…

I have always been terrified of heights.  As a child I could not go up stairs or cross wooden bridges that had gaps in them.  Even if the gaps were clearly too small for me to slip through (some were only an inch wide), fear would paralyze me.  I would cry out for my mother to pick me up and carry me across the fearsome obstacle.  As long as she had her arms around me, I felt safe…

As a small child, your fears feel so big…but the trust you have in your parents’ presence and protection is so much bigger.  More often than not, just being in their arms eases your anxieties.

Then you grow up.   

Gradually you become aware of more frightening things than bad dreams and “scary” movies.  The realities of life in this fallen world come crashing in.  When you are awakened to the fact that bad things happen to good people, it can become very difficult to keep your fears in check.

My first recollection of deep, crippling fear was in January of my senior year in high school.  I was 17.  I came home from a friend’s house to find my mom sitting in my room.  She proceeded to tell me that one of my close friends had died suddenly.  He was sick with cold symptoms one week and dead the next.  I was overwhelmed with emotions.  Denial.  Sorrow.  Anger.  The pain I felt from my loss paled in comparison to the pain I felt for his family.  They were like family to me and the thought of what they were going through pierced me to the core. The pain was so intense, my heart physically hurt.  And to top it all off, a nagging sense of fear began to pour over me.  All I could think about was calling my brother, hearing his voice, making sure he was ok.  I must have called his number at college fifty times trying to get through, trying desperately to find him.  I was so scared that something might have happened to him as well.  It was an irrational fear, but no less real to me at the time.

Years later, something did happen to my brother.  He was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  I can’t really explain what it is like to get news like that.  Unfortunately, many of you know what I am talking about.  The unwanted diagnosis.  The unknown future.  The grim possibilities.  How quickly life can change.  After surgery, chemo and radiation, he was declared tumor-free.  Less than a year later, another one appeared.  More chemo.  More radiation.  This time, he was living with me and I was his care-giver.  I learned nursing skills I never wanted to learn.  One corner of my apartment was converted into our medical supply area.  Despite all I did to try to keep him strong and help him fight, he had complications and had to be rushed to the hospital.  I cried and begged God to heal him and bring him home to us.  For days I was useless.  Fear of losing him overwhelmed me.  This time, my fear was rational.  We could have lost him.  Thankfully, my fear was not realized.

Fast forward a few years.  My boys and I were on our yearly summer visit to Texas, lounging by the pool, swimming with a friend and her girls, when she got the phone call no one ever wants to get.  Her husband, a police officer, had been killed in the line of duty.  Her greatest fear was realized.  I was by her side 24/7 for the next week and a half.  I watched her go through every emotion imaginable.  I watched her as she tried to wrap her mind around this new, unwanted life as a widowed mother of two.  

When we got back home from our trip, a subtle undertone of fear began to invade my life.  Each day that my husband put on his uniform and walked out our front door, my fear grew.  I had always known the risks he faced each day, but it hadn’t been real to me before then.  It all came to a head one year later, when a major political event came to town.  The city was expecting massive protests.  Groups were threatening extreme violence against the police.  All officers were told to anticipate working long hours in riot gear for days on end.   

That was one of the longest weeks of my life.  I sat on my couch all day, every day, flipping from one news channel to the next, desperately trying to find news coverage of the event.  I only stepped away from the television long enough to see if the internet had any new information or pictures of the thousands of angry protestors.  I had no way to contact him.  I never knew what time he would be home.  I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t function.  I was paralyzed with fear…fear that I knew could so easily become a reality.  How incredibly grateful I was when that week came to an end!

Over the course of my adult life, especially since marrying a cop, I have thought a lot about fear.  I have spent hours pondering the “what if’s” of life.  What if my husband dies?  What if something happens to one of my children?  What if my health rapidly declines?  What if I lose someone I love dearly?  What if tragedy strikes?  We all like to live in our happy world of “that will never happen to me,” but the reality is it will at some point.  We are not promised an easy life.  Jesus tells us as much in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

At first, in the face of seemingly insurmountable fears, this verse didn’t have a comforting effect on me.  I knew that Jesus had overcome the world.  I knew that my Father loved me more than I could fathom.  I knew that the Creator of the universe knew my future.  What scared me was the possibility that my future might not be the one I wanted.  My fears have always seemed to be centered on the fact that there are things in my future that will be heart-breaking.  There will be unbearably difficult times.  There will be sorrow and pain.  There will be unspeakable losses.  I know this because I have lived long enough to experience such things and see many others do so as well.  Bad things happen to good people.   That is a fact of life on this earth.

So how do we keep the fear from consuming us?  I found the answer in God’s truth.

The phrases “do not fear” and “fear not” are found frequently in the Bible.  But try as we might, we simply cannot will ourselves to not be afraid.  Trust me, I’ve tried.   As I studied the various verses trying to figure out how to rid my life of fear, I noticed something significant.  It is not just that He knows what the future holds.  It is not just that God can and has conquered evil, although that plays a very important part.  It is that He is here with us.  Time and again God tells us this.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  ~Isaiah 43:5

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  ~Deuteronomy 31:6

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  ~ Isaiah 41:10

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”   ~ Isaiah 41:13

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;”   ~ Psalm 23:4

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you,
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”   ~Isaiah 43:2

This is one of my personal favorites.  It doesn’t gloss over the difficulties we will face.  But it does give us the reason for hope: God will be with us.  

The fact is that we will have to face many heart-wrenching things in this life.  The TRUTH is that God will be with us every step of the way. 

Just like a child runs to his mother’s arms for safety and comfort, just as baby birds will seek shelter under their mother’s wing, so we should rest in the arms of our Heavenly Father.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  ~1 Peter 5:7

Whatever it is that you are facing, He is with you.  He loves you and promises to never leave you.  I witnessed this firsthand when my friend was forced to live out her worst fear.  Looking back on those two weeks that summer, I can see God’s fingerprints everywhere…from the fact that I was with her when she found out, to the overwhelming generosity of hundreds of people, many of whom were strangers.  I got to see God’s Provision for her and her girls.  I got to see His love displayed through so many people.  Yes, it was a horrible tragedy for her family.  But in the midst of her darkest days, God was there. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  ~Philippians 4:6-7
One year ago tonight I was trying desperately to get all my boys in bed.  During the "just one more drink of water" and the "I have a question" routines, my phone began ringing.  There was no hurrying the boys along, so I let the call go to voicemail.  Immediately, it began ringing again.  I figured it was my husband, as he usually called me on his way home from work.  When I finally got the kids settled, I went to answer the phone that was still ringing non-stop.  Indeed, it was my husband’s number on the caller id.  When I answered it, however, it was not my husband on the other end.  It was another police officer telling me that my husband had been badly injured at work and was in the ER.  What I had feared had come true.  They sent a car for me and I spent the night sitting next to my bruised and swollen husband in the ER, praying that he would be ok.  But despite all the time I had spent worrying about this day, I felt an overwhelming calm.  I could feel God there in that room with me.  I knew that no matter what the future held, God would not leave my side.  I knew in the depths of my soul that I would be ok.  I have never felt so peaceful in my life.  Peace that passes all understanding, indeed.

So when you find yourself overcome with fear and focusing on the “what ifs” of life, my advice to you is to sit in His presence. 

Snuggle up to your Father.   

Then you will have the strength--and peace--to face whatever may come your way.