Fear has always been a big part of my life, from my earliest years. Whether due to genetics, birth order or my upbringing, anticipating what could go wrong in any possible situation and how I might suffer as a result has been a skill I've pretty much polished to perfection. Spiders, the dark, heights---it was pretty normal stuff at first.
But rather than lessening as I matured, these fears grew over the years. My capacity for anticipating the variations and permutations of these simpler fears increased. The harmless red spider grew into a ravening tarantula, the dark harbored demonic aliens, fear of falling from a tree limb or mountain trail grew into a paralyzing terror of tumbling 30,000 feet from a flaming, disintegrating aircraft. 'Paralyzing' is a good word to describe this kind of fear. Beyond the literal physical sensation of being unable to think or move due to fear, there is the more insidious paralysis that creeps into your life. Paralysis that robs you of sleep due to worries of what mightbe crawling on the wall near your bed in the dark. Paralysis that robs you of the joys of parties or family reunions because you won't risk a fiery death on the freeway or simply can't board a plane. Sometimes the paralysis breaks, but blind, irrational fear can still jeopardize loved ones, as I experienced when my son brought a jiggling handful of "spider" (actually string) up to my face while I was peacefully rocking my newborn..who was promptly dumped on the floor as I leapt up screaming.
But the fear of what can happen to yourself pales in comparison to the whole of universe of worry that opens up to parents when they bring their first baby home from the hospital. Hidden birth defects, mysterious illnesses, freak accidents parade before the imagination of the control-freak by the hour. And then when lightening strikes and the worst happens, all that worry is for nought. You don't know terror until you're in the waiting room during your toddler's emergency surgery. Then paralysis strikes again, robbing you of even the ability to pray beyond a numbed"please....!".
And after that prayer is answered and the healing begins, after all the miracles that I've witnessed in my life, had I learned anything about trusting God? Nope. Control freaks aren't like that. We may be grateful for the occasional assistance, but we know that we are the ones bearing the burden of seeing that all mishaps are at all times prevented. Just as we patrol the house every night checking locks, lie awake listening for rattling of door handles or stealthy sliding of windows. Yes, the fear of a home invasion is also one I've been cultivating over the last few years, aided and abetted by my husband, who wholeheartedly shared my paranoia about unwanted visitors and took appropriate steps to prepare for them.
But again, what about trust? What about hard-headed statistics? What about turning your life over to God and relaxing a bit? For the control-freak, just 'trusting God' is like a 3-legged horse winning the Kentucky Derby. It ain't happening. Besides, we control-freaks counter, God allows (allows, not causes) mind-bogglingly hideous things to befall folks all over the world every day, so it's only a matter of time before our number is up, we reason. All the 'miracles' we experienced were probably just near misses.
So how does God break through this shell of anxiety and offer some hope to poor miserable sufferers? Sometimes He uses dramatic wake-up calls. When those long-feared home-invaders did show up one day at 2:30 am, reality was far scarier than anything I'd imagined. As I huddled upstairs with the children and the (useless) Doberman, waiting for the police to respond to my semi-coherent 911 call, I couldn't believe this worst case scenario was actually happening. The sounds of violent smashing of the front door and shattering glass, the shouting as my armed husband confronted what I assumed was an entire gang of drug-crazed human traffickers, was indescribably, acutely terrifying. An incident only a couple of minutes long seemed interminable.
And then it was over. It was over, and we were all safe. The solitary, drunken teen was in custody, our statement was given to the helpful officers, the broken glass swept up, a piece of plywood fastened over the door and we went back to bed.
You'd think that after this experience, I'd be more paranoid than ever. You'd think that, when a week later my husband and boys were miraculously spared death by a runaway vehicle, I'd forbid anyone to leave the house and we'd just hole up in the basement for the rest of our lives. But since those few intense moments, I've been given a glimpse of God's protecting hand and this time I think I'll just reach out and hold on. A burden has been lifted from me, because lightening struck, the worst happened, and we survived.
I sleep more soundly, I worry far less (and more realistically) because the nebulous attacker we'd been dreading for years now has a face and a name, a name we include in our family prayer intentions. I'm not saying I scoff at whatever the future might hold, but I am taking back my life and enjoying it so much more without a gray shadow of dread.
In a way, God used a misguided youth to break down a door of fear and let in some light. I'm learning that I really have nothing to fear but fear itself. And spiders.
---a version of this piece originally appeared on the blog, Beauty and Belief.