So I've been thinking about fear a lot lately.
My mom once told me that if I could ever stop living in fear I would experience so much freedom and that God could open up a vast space inside of me which didn't currently exist. She was basically saying it was the one thing holding me back from being all that I had been created to be.
I was offended.
Who is she to tell me that I have an issue with fear? I don't have fear. She's the one with fear. Afraid of conflict. Afraid of being alone when dad is out on military trips... sleeping with the dog, on the couch, listening for intruders. She doesn't even ride roller coasters and I've hardly seen her try a new food and she turns splotchy when she is stressed out about a bad business meeting or an unpleasant confrontation. She's the one with the fear problem.
My mom also told me that when someone points out something about you and your automatic response is defensiveness... odds are they have hit the nail on the head.
I suppose being the incredibly wise and insightful women she is, she was spot on.
I am reading an incredible book right now, recommended by a friend, entitled Great With Child by Debra Rienstra. My friend said that she hardly ever insists that someone read a book, but that I absolutely had to go get this gem of poetic, quirky, spiritual, deeply intimate literature. And now I am telling you the same thing. Male or female, this book is a must read.
I love the author's honesty and she has much to say about fear.
As she dwells on the desire to have a baby you can feel it and hear it bubbling up in her words, "Even in desire there must be an openness that is not exactly a welcoming of grief, but a sober acknowledgement of the possibilities, a willed acceptance of the risks."
She goes on to say:
"Adams and Eves on the other side of the gates, we forget what the garden was like, then begin to wonder if it was ever even real. We become skittish, waiting for the other foot to fall, shaking our heads cynically and muttering about the way things work, or just pattering cautiously around every good gift, as if it might suddenly be swiped away. Because it might.
And I trace now a thin thread of worry somewhere in my mind, about miscarriage or genetic defects or teenage rebellion or early, tragic death-my mind fast-forwarding through the child's life before the child amounts to more than a few thousand cells."
And all of this is spoken before the chapter entitled: Fear.
I am convinced every month that Anniston is no longer breathing, or she is missing a nose, or she is not going to be born alive, or she is going to have terrible, terrible years of teenage acne and will grow bitter with hate. And I find myself reading the words of this book thinking... maybe I do have some fear to deal with.
And then it all comes crashing down. There are those thoughts that my plane will crash on my way home and we will be the third plane to go down this month. Or that the lady constantly coughing behind me on the flight has pneumonia, which she has now given me, and I will spend the next three months on bed rest. Or even bigger, looming fears. That my dad will have cancer like his dad did. That my mom will have heart failure like her dad. That my sister's husband will be deployed again, but this time he won't come home. Or worst of all, I will have an aneurysm. That one is the worst because, BAM, it just hits you and you have no chance to save yourself, you're just a goner. Aneurysms are the worst.
Even as a kid when my dad was a police officer and my skittish mom was holding down the fort I felt an attack by a burglar was imminent so I carried a butcher knife around the house for protection. (Yikes, that's a bit creepy and over the top). I made sure my family practiced the fire escape routes in our two story home and I went to the emergency room at the slightest notion of after hours pain.
The list goes on and on and I sit at the foot of this page thinking, "I hate it when my mom is right."
I am no stranger to the fact that I deal with fear. I have openly shared my diagnosis and struggle with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Not the strand that leaves me flicking lights off and on or compulsively washing my hands, but the kind that keeps me awake at night with repetitive, unwanted thoughts. The same thought usually, over and over again, which will not go away until my body drags me into sleep or until I get up and check that yes, the front door is locked. And no, there is no one in the bathroom. Logical? No. Real? In my mind, yes.
While God sits with me during these episodes, they have not been taken away, and my intense prayer sessions do not ease their intensity or existence. Medicine however has greatly helped. So have a lot of other things. And now, it is a rare occasion to be seized by debilitating fear.
Still, fear exists. Apart from any diagnosis or any disorder, fear exists. Not just in me, but everyone.
Perhaps it comes from the fact that, in reality, we have so little control. While it is nice to think happy thoughts and to be optimistic (which I generally am), the truth remains the same, "that in this world there is simply no guarantee against suffering."
Some kids are born without noses. Some people do inherit cancer. Many a good person is subject to tragedy. And lots of kids do end up with acne scares and bitterness.
To pretend these things don't exist and won't happen to us because we are good people or people of faith, sets us up for a life of disappointment and disillusionment.
Rienstra puts it this way, "Francis Bacon... once wisely observed that any man who marries and has children gives 'hostages to fortune.' And he had never even experienced motherhood. Susan and I agreed it's a miracle that anyone lives to be 10 years old or 30 or surely 80. A miracle."
So I find myself wondering, what the heck?
There are medical reasons some people have a propensity for excessive fear. Those can be dealt with medically. There are legitimate reasons we can have fear, because, bad things do happen. Who is to say it won't happen to each one of us? But then there is a call for those of us who have faith to follow the example of Jesus and the words of scripture that teach us to live without fear.
The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? Psalms 27:1
So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. Isaiah 41:10
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship. Romans 8:15
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. 1 John 1:18
The verses are excessive in number. 1st, second, and third person they are spoken throughout scripture as promises and declarations for those who need to be set free by a perfect love... in which there is no fear.
Does my fear make me less faithful? Does it speak to the depth of my faith? Is it excessive? Is it normal? Does Jesus understand? Living without fear?
I think he does. Fear and worry co-exist and Jesus addresses worry in Matthew 6 with both compassion and practicality. I like that he validates it by even speaking to it in the first place; giving it credence as a real emotion. He does the same with his friends Mary and Martha. He compassionately speaks to Martha's frantic pace and worry and he abides in the company of Mary's peaceful demeanor.
And though it is not specifically nightmares of nose-less, mutated babies, or burglaries, Jesus addresses the fear that resides in each one of us by inviting us to turn over our cares and anxieties and to take up a lighter yoke. One more bearable. One that gives us life and not the constant fear of death and all bad things possible.
There is reason for fear in this world because this world can completely suck sometimes. But there is also reason for great fortune. Both exist hand in hand. Maybe we are hostages to free-will and sin. But we are also hostages to fortune and goodness.
For every nose-less baby there are at least ten thousand babies that have adorable noses that work just fine. For every lost fight to cancer, there is a survivor of cancer. For every tragic nightmare we can fathom, there are just as many, if not many more, beautiful moments where love, prosperity, health, happiness, kindness, success, family, friends, and babies flourish in this world.
So it is a choice. Every day. I can chose fear or I can chose hope. I can chose worry or I can chose peace. I can chose to think of Anniston as cute, healthy, and happy. Or doom her in my mind to an early death or a freak playground accident. I can look forward to the years where she can drive her car, make decisions, and hopefully begin to care for the world around her. Or I can relish those years to acne, rebellion, and possible jail time.
While I can never relinquish all my fears (and probably shouldn't as a healthy since of fear is, well, healthy), I can learn to live with them. They can become a faint whisper in the background of a beautiful melody that chooses to live each day with hope and anticipation of all the good I will see. The amazing, God-given, old-fashioned goodness. My prayer right now is that I will be transformed from one who often fears the world, to one who lives in peace and anticipation of every good thing God will give me and my family.
And maybe Anniston will even have a nose. Maybe.
"In the midst of fear and doubt, I find testimony that the God who heals the world attends to singular griefs. I still live with my fears for my children and myself, but here in this place I see God's tears- falling to the earth to water and transform."
Rienstra, Debra. great with child.
New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2002