I must have been around ten years old when I first realized that people’s houses could burn down.
I don’t recall how this shocking, unsettling revelation came to be had – but it terrified me into insomnia for weeks. What if I fell asleep and the house burned down around me? What if we couldn’t get out? What if… What if… What if…
When I finally confessed my terror to my mom, I remember the conversation as basically, “Well… what’s the worst that could happen?” There were two options in this scenario, it seemed to my mom. Either we made it out of the house, all that was lost was stuff, and we’d be fine. Or we died, in which case we were in heaven with Jesus and – of course – we’d be even more fine.
For a long while after, before sinking into sleep, I would lay in bed mentally preparing myself for either of the two options. I said goodbye to all my beloved stuffed animals in case we didn’t see each other again. And I said, “Well, Jesus, maybe I’ll see you tonight…” before surrendering my insomniac ways.
I’m glad my mom took the route she did. If instead, she’d taken me through the house to show me the smoke detectors and numerous exits that could protect us from a fire, I would’ve learned that the answer to fear was more control, more precaution. That safety measures could protect me from fear.
Last week, friends told me I should be on-alert since there’s been a few break-ins recently in the neighborhood. I already lock my doors at night and don’t let any strangers past the porch, so I wasn’t sure what extra precautions I should take. My mind started whirring. I woke up in the middle of the night, positive I was hearing intruders rummaging around in the living room. During bouts of late-night insomnia, I envisioned the new lock I would buy for my door – something bigger, bulkier, stronger…
And then that Whisper, nearly shouting to get over my inner turmoil, “STOP!”
“Didn’t you pray over this house?”
“Aren’t others praying for your protection?”
“Aren’t I in charge here?”
And I realized I was trying to get rid of my fear with more control, when there’s no amount of control I could have that would make fear leave my sleep alone. I had to suck in a deep breath and again give up the idea that if only I take enough precautions I can rid myself of fear.
I was introduced to Jason Gray’s music when I was last in the USA. One of my favorite of his songs is No Thief Like Fear. The first verse contains this astute observation about – “fear will take the best of us/then come back for the rest of us/its raging hunger never satisfied”.
Once you give it a corner to fight from, fear really does never give up, does it? It will steal your sleep, your joy, your thankfulness, your enjoyment of others. Fear stops us from creating, from changing and growing, from trying something new. I wonder how many things have never been invented for fear of failure. I wonder how many relationships were never forged for fear of rejection.
We think we’re beating fear by taking obsessive precautions and lying awake planning contingencies and never taking any risks. There’s a whole lot of surrender to fear that gets written off as “prudence”. What we’re really doing is giving fear more and more control over us.
I was reading in Isaiah yesterday, where twice the command comes “do not be afraid”. Isaiah’s vision isn’t one of a perfectly controlled, ordered world where nothing goes wrong. He’s not saying “do not be afraid” to people living in the perfectly restored heaven & earth.
He’s saying “do not be afraid” while looking into the future of Israel’s being dispersed and scattered to the ends of the earth. Of upheaval and war and tragedy. Of things completely out of control. What could possibly induce someone not to fear in the midst of such circumstances?
I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?”
We’re not in control, but Someone is. And so, I remind myself, do not be afraid.