Have you ever been afraid?
I suppose that is a bad question–of course you have. Though the world teaches us to put on a brave face, fear is universal. Let me try again:
Have you ever not been afraid?
I wish I could brush this question off. I know the answer should be simple, but in reality fear is totally and inseparably a part of my story. For most of my life not only have I lived in fear, but I have been defined, driven, and diminished by it.
Fear has been such an unshakable part of who I am, I’m not sure if I have ever really been free from it. And you know what? That scares me.
A glimpse into the past:
I remember sitting on my bed. My sister and I were side by side, saying nothing, staring straight ahead. It was quiet. Not quiet in a calm way, but in a painful, overwhelmingly loud way–like the eye of a tornado.
We had spent the last couple weeks at home, skipping school. Family, extended family, and family friends silently crowded our living room. I desperately wanted to avoid them all.
A wail broke the silence. It didn’t sound human.
In the other room, my Mom died. That dragon cancer took its toll. I was nine.
For another hour we sat on my bed, until men in white suits carried a black bag out of my parent’s room. I didn’t cry. Maybe all the tears were gone at this point, maybe something in me was broken. I lay down. I felt cold, and empty, and lost.
⇒ 2 Years Later
I remember standing on a staircase. I was at school. People swarmed around me, none looking at my face. I’m not sure what they would have seen if they did.
For some reason, a thought had just hit me like a truck. If my Dad were to die, I would be completely alone. People died every day from freak accidents, didn’t they? The course of my life rested solely on the chance survival of another. I had absolutely no say on whether or not everything I knew would instantly collapse around me.
I felt like something alien had its fingers wrapped around my heart, holding me in place. I wanted to run, or scream, or cry, but I was terrified beyond the boundaries of emotion. So I just stood.
I think this was the day I realized how little control I truly have.
⇒ 3 Years Later
I remember laying under my covers in the pitch black. I felt sick, like I was about to throw up, but I was paralyzed.
My parent’s raised voices pierced the thin walls of my house. My Dad sounded angry, my step-Mom accusatory. I don’t remember what they argued about. It wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t the last.
I felt so small. I imagine that family is comforting for most people; it is where they feel safe. For me, it was only ever a place where I felt bound to imperfection.
Even after silence overtook my house, I lay awake for hours. The fear didn’t leave with the screams. It just slumbered.
When I think about my past, these are the memories I have. Perhaps I should remember the happiness, the friendship, or the love, but I feel like so much of my story has been overshadowed by this fear.
Thoughts on Fear
Even amidst all this fear, I knew Christ. I had believed in him for as long as I could remember. I wasn’t ignorant of my salvation, or His plan, or the community that loved me. All of these were things that I accepted to a certain extent, but somehow they were not enough for me to break the hold my fear had on me.
I think at the core of my fear was something that we all struggle with: a desire for control. I spent so many years afraid of the things I couldn’t control (death, disaster, misfortune) that the idea of giving up any of the control I did have was unthinkable. Intellectually, I knew that I couldn’t stave off disaster through sheer force of will, yet I still clung to the idea that I had to fight tooth and nail for my own success. I believed that my value was directly tied to my achievement, and I was terrified of failure.
The irony of fear: The more you try to control your life, the less control you realize you have.
I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point I was just stretched too thin by my fear. I was exhausted; I couldn’t handle it any more. My only options were letting go of my desire for control or checking myself in to some kind of mental institution.
So I gave up on my own plan for success. I decided to do more than just believe what the Bible says, and to throw myself into it, identity and all. I stopped defining myself by what the world tells me I am, and started accepting who Christ says I am: A small part of something much greater.
When Fear Falls Short
If you read the title of this post (hint: contains the word Testimony) here is where you expect to find “I found Jesus and suddenly I stopped being afraid”.
The Twist: I still haven’t escaped my fear. Surprisingly enough, my faith hasn’t wiped out the terror I feel when I consider my life. I still dread my loved ones dying. I am still paralyzed by conflict. Many days I still feel empty inside. I struggle to connect to others emotionally.
That is not to say nothing has changed. I still feel fear, but no longer am I defined by it. I have finally realized that while my story may end in death/disaster/misfortune, there is a far more beautiful story that will end quite the opposite. That is the story that I pursue.
Fear becomes a lot easier to handle when you begin to see that no matter how broken and bruised your life becomes, your identity in Christ is absolute. I could be alone, destitute, and despised–still I would be loved.
My testimony isn’t just Christ saving me from my sin, it’s him saving me from myself. No longer am I “Jason: Dead Mother, Broken Family, Inadequate, Lonely“. Now I am “Jason: Child of God, Completely Known and Fully Loved“.
My fear is still present, but now it falls far short of my hope.
It would be presumptuous to claim a monopoly on fear. I don’t want to make it seem as if my pain has been more present/prolonged/damaging than yours. I know how messy life is. Fear is the rule, not the exception.
Yet my experience has taught me something: You can’t find an escape from dread, because we live in a world where your worst fears may indeed come to pass. God doesn’t necessarily warp reality to protect us from disaster–instead he gives us something magnificently more glorious to pursue. He shows us a joy that makes our fear pale in comparison.
My prayer then is this: That you too might find your identity in who God says you are, rather than what your fear tells you you are. Fear may be the little death that brings about total obliteration, but perfect love drives out fear.
And God are you loved.
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9