My biggest fear used to be losing my husband. I felt like losing him just might be the end of me. I remember someone asking me the totally unfair question ” Which would be harder? Losing your spouse or losing your child?”. I thought about that dreaded question and came up with an answer pretty quickly. Of course losing a child was and is devastating to imagine, but I chose losing a spouse as being the more difficult path for me to walk. I think most moms would come up with another answer, but I didn’t. Here was my reasoning. I could not imagine walking through such great and devastating loss without the support and care of a husband by my side. See I had walked through tragedy before. In fact another one of my fears had transpired within 15 months of our marriage. I experienced a brutal sexual assault that left me needing both physical and emotional help for years. Although I had help and support from both friends and family, it was my husband who had walked most intimately with me in the grief and the healing. Family and friends were amazing, but it was my husband who witnessed the real anguish that came in the dead of night. It was my husband who would anchor me in the midst of an anxiety attack with the coping techniques we had learned in counseling. It was my husband who I could call at any moment of the day when I was hit with extreme fear as someone knocked on my front door or I had to walk by myself in the dark. It was my husband who sat with me awake all through the night praying scriptures over me and wiping my tears. How could I ever lose this kind of a support system? If I lost him, I felt like I would be completely and utterly alone in the times that grief was at its worst. Being alone, that was the root of my greatest fear. Yet it was my husband who told me the night of my assault that when we allow our biggest fears to consume us, we are not trusting that God’s grace is sufficient to carry us through whatever that fear is.
At the end of 2016, my greatest fear became a reality and I lost my husband. Although I had played out this fear in my mind a million times, never once did I imagine that I would lose my husband to his own sin at his own choosing. I would lose him, but I could still hear his voice on the other end of a phone call. He was still in this world, but he was gone from my grasp. The guy who carried me through so much heartache was now the cause of so much more. My grief was overwhelming, rushing around me like roaring rapids that just wouldn’t quiet down or let me take a deep breath. Friends and family swarmed in to lend their love and support, but as predicted I found myself in the dead of the night utterly alone with an anguish that felt like it would swallow me whole. I felt justified in my fears of being alone. However, to my surprise as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, I realized that I was surviving my greatest fear.
Many people called me strong and commended me for pushing through hard times. I knew they meant well, and I truly appreciated it. However, I knew there was no strength in me. Those people couldn’t see my 1am self, completely exhausted from a day of single parenting, still up with a sick crying baby who hadn’t slept, all the while trying to sort through pain that kept resurfacing. A once stranger called anger was now an uninvited guest in my home who wouldn’t leave. I wasn’t strong, I was a complete mess. Weakness oozed out of me in every direction. I would lay awake crying out to God in desperation for him to help me. I was all alone in the night walking through great grief. Why had he allowed this to happen? God most generously showed me that I certainly wasn’t utterly alone in the dark. Although I didn’t have a physical presence to hold my hand, I had scriptures such as Isaiah 41: 10- Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. I had scriptures such as Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Every night for months I reached out for Jesus to show himself to me and carry me through and he did. I often felt as though it was a miracle that I made it through the day and wasn’t sure how I would get through without God’s grace in my life. As I now understand suffering in a broader way, I think that is the whole point. No matter our situation, whether we are in abundance or need, we cannot get through the day without God’s grace in our lives. It’s is just more obvious in those real times of struggle how much more so we need it. That is one of the reasons that those who have been through seasons of suffering can look back on that time and can actually miss it. We know it’s during these seasons, where we experience an intimacy with Jesus like never before. We appreciate the goodness of God and his heart for the hurting. We remember that when everyone else seems to disappoint us, he never does.
When I think back to the night of my assault in the Fall of 2012. I remember laying on a trampoline gazing at the stars while holding hands with my husband and him whispering those words of encouragement about fear. “Fear is deception”, he said. Fear is not trusting in God’s grace to help us overcome any situation. It is basically saying that God is not big enough to get me through that. I lay there amazed at the truth of that. Of course like most women I had held a genuine fear of being attacked. What I experienced was awful and tragic and has come with great consequences, but I also know that God was big enough to take me through it and still give me a song in my heart. It’s ironic to think about these words coming from my ex-husband’s mouth so many years ago have still encouraged me today as I do this life without him. We can spend our todays worrying about all our greatest fears coming true tomorrow and completely miss the mark of how grace works in our lives. God hasn’t given us the grace for a hypothetical situation that could happen one day. He gives us grace to face what is in front of us now. If you had told me on November 2, 2016 that I would become a single mother and lose my husband in just one month, I would have completely and totally fallen apart. I would have never believed that I could survive such immense sorrow and weight of responsibility, but here I am surviving and finding joy in each day. This is not at all a testament to my strength and grit, but to how God’s grace is sustaining me each day. The first thing I see when I wake up each morning and as I lay down to sleep each night is a frame with the verse 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” When I attempt to lean on my own strength, I fall hard and can’t get back up. Yet when I breathe this verse in and recognize the weakness in me, I find great strength. If anyone sees strength in me that’s where it comes from!
We all experience fear no matter what stage of life we are in. We fear a bad diagnosis. We fear financial burdens. We fear losing a child. We fear evil coming into our homes. We fear failure. We fear infidelity in our marriage. The list could go on and on. Think about what keeps you awake at night. I would never tell you that those are irrational fears or that God wouldn’t allow those things to happen. My story and the stories of so many of those around us show us that’s not true. We don’t need to look very far to understand that “bad things happen to good people”. However, if we let the truths of 2 Corinthians 12:9 sink into our hearts, we can put those fears back on the shelf and trust that the sufficient amount of grace will be there when we need it. God knows we can’t handle the anxious thoughts that swirl in our brains about the future. That is why he tells us not to worry about tomorrow and to cast our cares on him. He is big enough to handle all of those, not us. We need to focus on today and rest in the grace that he is offering right in front of us. Thomas Merton said “I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone”. Our greatest fears need not consume us when we have a God who is so much bigger than them and promises to place his power upon us.