There have been a few times in my life when I have been genuinely afraid.
Darkness in a Room
Once, I was laying in my bed in my dorm room at night. Usually our room felt very peaceful and falling asleep was not difficult. My bed was lofted and I was laying on my side, facing the wall, with the rest of the room behind me. All of the sudden the peace fled and I was filled with terror. It felt like something evil was in my room. I felt sure that if I turned over to face whatever it is, that I would be looking into the face of darkness. I laid there, paralyzed. In my head I logically knew this was not real, but my heart was pounding and the fear was telling me otherwise. After what felt like an eternity, I worked up enough courage to turn over and sit up. As soon as I moved my body, I felt the fear lift and rational thought return.
Lost on a Mountain
A few years later, my husband and I were on our honeymoon. We were enjoying a beautiful national park as the sun was starting to set. John wanted to go climb this rocky mountain we were standing at the foot of. I told him I’d get a good picture of him at the top. I climbed halfway up and then he went the rest of the way himself. After a few minutes, I headed back to the bottom so I could see where he was and take a picture. Strangely, I could not spot him. I figured he went further over to explore and just waited, taking pictures of the sunset. As it began to get dark, I started to worry. I climbed back up to the halfway point and yelled his name. I went to the bottom and starting walking as far as I could around the mountain looking for a glimpse of him. I realized he had the car keys in his pocket and neither of us were dressed for the dropping temperatures. I walked back to the car hoping for a better vantage point. Nothing.
By now it was getting dark and I was terrified. Worst case scenarios starting playing through my head. We didn’t have our cell phones because there was no reception. There had a been a few guys who walked by but I felt silly asking for help. Now I was panicking and wishing I had. I decided I had to do something before it was totally dark. I started walking towards the road to try to wave down a car. As the first headlights rounded the bend, I lost my nerve and walked back to the foot of the mountain for one more try. No sign of John. I headed back to the road and as the second set of headlights was coming around the corner, I thought I heard something behind me. I ran back to where I had been and started yelling for John.
I finally heard the sweet sound of his voice. We were too far apart to hear what the other was saying, but at least I knew he was okay. Eventually I worked my way around to below where he was climbing and talked him the rest of the way down. He had gotten disoriented at the top and couldn’t figure out how to get back down to where I was. I remember falling asleep that night with my arms around him, refusing to let go.
Letting Fear Creep In
Moment of fear in scary situations are normal and even biological. We are wired for survival. But it’s another thing to deal with fear on a daily basis. I know I’m not the only one who is going about her business and then all of the sudden: fear. It could be a noise downstairs when no one else is home, a situation out of control, or a habit of anxiety. At least in my own life, I have identified a few causes or sources of fear.
1. Unwillingness to Surrender Control
This whole point will be me preaching to myself, so don’t mind me. When we foster an unwillingness to surrender control, we invite fear into our lives. Checking off all the “what if’s” and playing scenarios constantly in your head will not lead to peace. It’s hard to believe, but all control we think we have over others or situations is really just an illusion. Yes, we are responsible for own actions. But we cannot force God or anyone else to do anything. Ultimately, our lives are in His hands. It is often said that the safest place to be is in God’s will. If you’re like me, you might be in a season of waiting, wondering, and praying about what is next. It’s been difficult for me to pry my fingers off my “ideal outcome” but I don’t really have another choice. Either I want what He wants for me or I don’t. A professor of mine recently reminded me that “God is the only one who knows what is best for us.”
2. Lack of Trust
Again, preaching to myself here. An unwillingness to surrender control leads right into a lack of trust. When we do not feel safe or stable, we get scared. No matter what situation you’re facing right now – a dysfunctional relationship, a break up on the horizon, a move, a new job, or personal attack – we either trust God or we don’t. He is gracious and He will offer us comfort and a safe place to go when we’re freaking out. But at some point, we have to come to the end of ourselves and re-commit our life and mind to Him.
If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest. – Corrie Ten Boom
3. Spiritual Attack
And sometimes, fear is a direct spiritual attack. It could come in the form of nightmares, intense personal conflict, a panic attack, and many other forms. That night I was laying in bed and felt paralyzed by fear was a spiritual attack. It came out of nowhere, invading what was normally a safe place for me. After I was able to climb out of bed, I locked myself in the bathroom (since my roommate was asleep) and commanded the enemy to leave out loud. You may wake up, heart pounding, from an awful nightmare and still feel like you’re in the dream. You may start to have anxious thoughts suddenly, with no warning or reason.
A Spirit of Power, Love, and Self-Control
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul writes an unusually tender encouragement to Timothy and the first part of this letter reads:
To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God…as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith…For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
A spirit or attitude of fear is never from God. There is a difference between a warning or spiritual uneasiness (that we may experience when God is trying to tell us something) and fear. Instead, available to us is a spirit of power, love, and self-control.
I’ll be trying to remember this next time I’m struggling for control of a situation close to my heart, refusing to place my trust in anyone but myself (usually with poor results), or coming under attack. Onwards!