In one of my earliest and most vivid memories, I stand counting and recounting hospital floor tiles as Brita is removed from life support.
We were five years old.
I had been playing at Melinda’s house that humid summer’s day. We were looping our bright plastic gingerbread men around the Candyland board when the telephone rang.
There is nothing more doctors can do, Melinda’s mother spoke quickly, flushed as she hustled both Melinda and me into their car. Melinda’s friend, Brita, whom I had never met, had been pronounced brain-dead, following a horrific car accident some weeks earlier.
Melinda’s mother thought it necessary to say goodbye to this little girl who would die within the hour. We had to hurry.
My heart thudded.
Can I go home? I asked.
No, dear. Your mother isn’t home just yet.
Melinda’s wailing increased and the fear inside of me swelled.
I buckled my hot seatbelt and felt the back of my legs burn as they stuck to the vinyl seats.
We sped to the hospital and peeled into the parking lot, running to the reception desk. After retrieving the room number, we fairly flew down the hallway.
Left. Right. Left.
I glimpsed Brita’s bed as Melinda and her mother stepped breathlessly inside and closed the door. Tubes and beeping machines were snaked ceiling to floor. I viewed a still, translucent hand draped limply along the bedsheets.
It was terrifying.
I was left alone in the unfamiliar hallway as doctors and nurses hustled by, studying charts and scribbling notes. I pressed myself against the wall, as the noxious odor of sickness and death permeated the air, swirling with the pungent scent of ammonia. I grew queasy and willed myself not to get sick, counting tiles beneath my flip-flops by way of distraction.
Fear coursed through my being. A roaring, relentless stream.
Another memory surfaces, this time in our narrow farmhouse apartment kitchen, shortly following Brita’s death. The telephone jingles, and my mother answers before sobbing.
A family friend had been flying his small plane, which silently began to leak carbon monoxide, causing him to grow sleepy. The plane crashed, and although he and his wife survived, their young daughter, Nancy, died upon impact.
The fear gripped and pressed down upon my chest, causing me to grow still. I crept off to my room, and carefully lined up my stuffed animals along the length of my bed, counting them over and over.
Airplanes were scary.
As time passed, I gathered up frightening moments, storing them like scalding stones in a knapsack, hefting them with me moment-by-moment through life, and right into my early days of motherhood. As long as I remembered what could happen, and kept on the lookout for any potential dangers, maybe I could keep my little family safe.
An exhausting way to live, I tell you. But after so many years it felt normal.
In grade school, I knew of a family who had bunches of children–something like a baker’s dozen. When their second son was two years old, their family had taken a trip into the city: husband and wife, two little boys, and a newborn baby girl. They rambled about in an old, restored part of town, traveling up an old-fashioned elevator to enjoy lunch at an exquisite restaurant. Afterward, as they wrangled the boys into the elevator, the two-year-old pulled his fidgety hand from his mother’s grasp and toddled forward, falling straight down the elevator shaft to his death.
I turned the story over and over in my head. Another stone to carry.
The summer of my thirteenth year ended in devastation. Cathy, a girl in our youth group went missing.
She was sixteen and bicycling to work, eager to return home for a family celebration. She never arrived at her job. Her bicycle was discovered two years later in a leaf-filled ditch, but no trace of her body was ever found. Her family waited seven years before holding a funeral service.
Two months following Cathy’s disappearance, a nine-year-old girl was abducted in a nearby town while going for a walk. Her case gained national attention, and when bits of her bones were eventually unearthed, investigators surmised that the same man, recently paroled, had been responsible for both disappearances.
These things could happen to people I knew–it was heartbreaking and terrifying. Wicked, evil people roamed the planet, and what could be done?
You can google ways to overcome fear, reading about specific protocols to relax and calm your mind. You may thumb through self-help books or ask for tips from well-meaning friends.
You may push fears down, growing still and cautious, or choose to play the cool cat, with a breezy Everything’s fine! while your scant fingernails or jiggling leg speak another story.
You can attempt to numb your fears in bunches of ways, turning to drink or drugs or social media or food or shopping or micromanaging or anger or sleep.
But have you considered the truth?
These measures do not work.
Some eighteen years ago, God, in his kindness drew me closer to himself, untangling the mess I had created in my own strength.
I began to saturate myself in Scripture, learning what pleases God, as though my life depended upon it, which of course it did.
Something absolutely delightful and stunning happened. The fears melted away.
Or perhaps the better way to explain things is this: my fear was transformed into a complete trust of God.
I discovered that it is impossible for faith and fear to coexist. They are quite incompatible.
I had been a baby Christian for a long time but had missed a crucial element of God’s nature: his perfect Sovereignty. As I drew near to God through each and every page of Scripture, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. God is always working and he is always good. His promises are to be trusted. He is in charge of every single moment of life. The Bible teaches this in beautiful, absolute ways. (Job 12:10) It is beyond clear: everything is sifted through his Almighty hands. (Colossians 1:17)
Every birth, sunrise, sunset, tide, star, friendship, celebration, laughter, breeze, raindrop, firefly, bird, animal, and family is ordered by God.
Here’s the harder truth: every death, heartache, cruelty, illness, abandonment, and accident are also permitted for a purpose that belongs solely to him. He is in charge of it all.
The Lord is shaping me through many hot fires and deep waters that hurt. But I am kept by God, hidden in Christ, and need not fear people or events or anything other than him. A holy fear and reverence, an adoration, and affection.
There is more good news:
If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me. (Robert Murray M’Cheyne)
Romans 8:34 reveals this very truth. Christ is interceding, even now.
There is no panic in heaven! God has no problems, only plans, said Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. She and her family hid 800 Jewish people within the walls of their home before they were found out and arrested. Corrie’s family died in the camps, but she lived to share her unshakable trust in God with the entire world.
Her book, The Hiding Place, is based upon Psalm 119:114. You are my hiding place and shield; I hope in your word. Corrie clung to the promises of God and glowed with joy. She was full of trust rather than fear.
Corrie understood that we were not meant to shoulder a weighty knapsack of worries.
You will find it necessary to let things go, simply for the reason that they are too heavy, she once said.
When people suffer and grow paralyzed by fear, it is important to come alongside them in love. Allow them the space to share or to be silent. Give them the gift of presence, an arm on their shoulder, rather than immediate words. The truths of God’s Sovereignty need not be verbally sprinkled over them just now.
But you may live out the steadfastness of God. Your own lack of fear will usher in winds of true comfort.
The knowledge of God’s perfect ways, in the midst of hardship, is meat to chew: nourishment to sustain as we are tempted to quake with anxiety. The only way to dismiss all fear is to trust God in wholehearted faith. Bury yourself in the pages of his Word, cry out to him in prayer, and treasure him most through unwavering obedience and affection.
That’s it. It remains an unusual way of living–but it is God’s way.
A soaring freedom for your soul.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. (Psalm 91:4-5)