Facing My Fears

Carving a jack-o-lantern with my boys this year for Halloween

I have always been a fan of Halloween. I like the candy, the costumes, and the parties. Its takes place during my most favorite season. As a parent there are countless activities I love doing with my sons. We visit pumpkin patches,apple orchards, carve jack o lanterns and participate in trick or treating events. Nowadays I usually stay away from all the creepy things that come along with the holiday, but if we would rewind nearly 20 years ago you could easily find my middle school self in the basement of friends’ houses watching horror movies during a Friday night sleepover.   The Scream franchise had our full attention and devotion. My friends and I loved the thrill of sleuthing out the serial killer’s identity, while hiding under blankets and peeking out just in time for the final scare. Those same friends and I could be found at the local haunted house standing in long lines and paying money to be scared out of our minds by some ghastly horror scene being acted out. We would link arms and hold tightly to each other the entire way through. After we had taken our tour through the house of horrors, we came out laughing and ready for more. This became a tradition each Halloween. Fear was equal to fun and entertainment for us. 

As I have grown into an adult, I no longer find fear to be fun or amusing. I stay as far away from horror movies or violent television as I can. A once avid roller coaster fan, I now find myself struggling to embrace the idea of being flipped and turned upside down with the trust that just this one harness will keep me from falling to my death. Instead of me pursuing fear, fear is now pursuing me. Something transforms in us as we mature. Many of us who loved scary movies or riding thrill rides as a kid, now struggle with true anxiety. I believe anxiety could be considered a fancy word for fear that takes control.   As a person who struggles with anxiety, fear is not something I go looking for. Instead it finds me and paralyzes me from living a life of freedom. For so many fear isn’t something just played with on Halloween, but it is the last thing we deal with before bed and the first thing that greets us in the morning. I have had a lot of experience living a life full of anxiety over the last decade. I am no expert on anxiety but I have observed a few things regarding it. For example: Fear rages most when we feel alone. Therefore, the power of fear can be lifted and often released by the presence of community.  

Like most households I have nightly bedtime routine with my two children. I tuck my boys into their beds each night, read a bible story, pray together, and sing a quick song. I turn off the lights, close the door, and approximately 5 minutes after that I will hear the sound of my five year old son calling my name. I go to check on him and he tells me he is afraid. Nearly every night for the last couple weeks, he tells me he cannot sleep and fears someone or something coming into our home to get him.  He doesn’t have this fear in the middle day. He doesn’t stop in the middle of playing a board game with me and worry about intruders. He doesn’t call my name in his classroom at school fearful of being harmed. See fear always comes when we feel the most alone. My son is fine until the lights go off, his little brother has fallen asleep and he is lying there wide awake in the dark feeling alone. What brings him comfort is one more hug and reassurance that I am right there in the room next door. I haven’t left him alone in his fears.  

I can completely relate to my 5-year-old. I have experienced a lot of trauma in my life and faced some of my worst fears. How have I been able to walk through them and come out on the other side? Knowing that I wasn’t left alone in my fears. This came through having a community around me. Friends and family have gathered around me encouraging me and supporting me in my darkest hours. Even if the words weren’t always the right ones, their physical presence gave me the courage to know I don’t have to do this all alone. The night that I survived a brutal attack, my sisters drove down to be with me. I woke up in the middle of the night and there they were sitting at my bedside all night ready to serve and help me.  There was an actual guest room that they could have used, but they chose proximity and that mattered. I wasn’t alone and I could fall back asleep knowing they were there.I have countless examples of people showing up for me in hard moments that in turn gave me courage to keep going. I walked into a courtroom to finalize a divorce with my mom by my side and friends on call praying for me fervently. I have sat in an emergency room with my child while friends and family held my hand and cared for me. I have spoken vulnerably in front of a crowd with a prayer warrior mentor standing in my corner. I have walked through depression and anxiety with close friends listening and willing to sit in the hard moments.  It is in community when fear loses its power over us. Good community takes fear and sucks all the lies out of it.  When we have someone holding our hand in that courtroom, doctor’s office, or a funeral home,  fear can be pushed backwards. Something we thought impossible to face all of sudden becomes possible.   

So when does fear take over and mostly consume me? Like my kindergartner, it’s when I am laying wide awake in the dark feeling alone. When I feel alone, fear attacks me like an enemy charging the front lines ready to capture my mind and my heart. Sometimes it succeeds and other times I am prepared for battle. I know that as much as friends and family attempt to support and rally around me, they will never fully satisfy my lonely heart. They cannot be available 24/7 to give me the courage I desire. As humans we like to be able to rely on other humans to get us out of our trouble and rescue us. I often put too much weight on my relationships  to become my saving grace in a storm, but that always ends in disaster. People will fail us. It’s inevitable. The expectation for them not to do so is setting yourself up for disappointment. In those darkest hours of the night, when there is no one to text and no one to turn to for assurance and safety I realize I can turn to the very one who speaks light into darkness. He is always there ready for me to come running to him for my peace of mind.  As a child I memorized Hebrews 13:5- 6 which says  For he has said, “ I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can confidently say, the Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?”  I wish that I could take the truths of this verse I have quoted for decades and rest in them, but honestly I find myself doubting the validity of what God is saying here all too often. I do feel alone. I do fear man and the capability of evil that is in them. Those feelings can often overshadow the truth, but it doesn’t change it.  

All through scripture you can find the command “Do not fear” usually followed with an immediate reassurance of his loving character and presence.  The Lord knows we fall into fear as soon as the unexpected comes our way.  God tells Abraham “Fear not, for I am your shield and great reward” (Gen 15:1). God tells Isaiah “fear not, for I have redeemed you and called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:1) The angel Gabriel tells Mary “Don’t be afraid, for you have found favor with God”. ( Luke 1:30). Notice that in none of these passages it says “Fear not because nothing bad will happen to you.”  In fact, Abraham still was childless for many years. Isaiah is believed to have been martyred. Mary still lived through being pregnant out of wedlock in a Jewish culture, a refugee in Egypt and watched her son die a gruesome death (and she was found favored!) I think in our American culture Christians will all too often say things like “Don’t be afraid, just trust in God” in a way that’s taken out of biblical context. What they often are implying is that if we trust in him then our fears probably won’t come true. But there are times when our fears actually do come true. I have lived through facing three of my biggest fears : Assault, miscarriage and infidelity/divorce. What brought me strength in all of these situations wasn’t some false hope that my circumstances would change somehow, but clinging to the promises of our King that he will never leave me or forsake me. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is Emmanuel, which literally means God with us. He came down to earth to prove his love for us. We can look to Jesus to see that God makes good on his promises and desires to be with his people especially in those hardest most terrifying moments.  

            If you are the one feeling alone today in your fears, tell someone. Don’t walk it alone. You were meant for community. Reach out to someone and let them into your fears. Just like most of us wouldn’t dare walk through a haunted house all by ourselves or sit alone in basement watching a horror movie, neither should we think we could walk through our biggest fears without someone next to us.  If you have already have a community supporting you then be grateful for that, but don’t forget to look to Jesus first of all.. He makes us brave. He calms the storms and raises the dead. He heals our diseases. He understands our sorrow. He never fails us. He is drawing near to you. Draw near to him and know that you are not alone.  

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