Fear is a very unique and extraordinary emotion. Yesterday while reading in Jeremiah, I was overwhelmed by how many times the Lord repeated the command to counteract and abstain from fear. “Fear not… Do not be dismayed… let no one make you afraid.” We are all familiar with this wording from the Lord. But in this context, it was time after time stated before, after, and during judgment. At first encounter, it seems so contradictory to “fear not” in the midst of judgment. Yet, while in His Word, the Lord is faithful to meet us at our point of need or burden. Quite possibly, fear was a focus in this passage for me as it is currently a point of personal struggle.
Put simply, I’m currently facing a situation that I fear and do not want to confront. In addition to the fear, I also feel inundated with shame because it is a situation I’ve previously faced. As the situation lingers and the fear builds, it occupies my thoughts and can ultimately be all-consuming and overwhelming. I’m a mom of three with one on the way. The Lord often gives me understanding of His word and application to my life through my children. At the young ages of 8, 6, and 5, their emotions and motivations are much more transparent and easily understood as they face life’s experiences, many for the first time.
Recently, my three children waited in line with me for over two hours to receive the swine flu vaccination. This was an additional and second vaccination to the seasonal flu shot they had received in the previous weeks. For my 6-year-old girl, Mariana, the memory of this experience was even more recent and fresh in her mind. Her brother and sister had received their seasonal flu shots at the pediatrician’s office, but Mariana had been sick and had to delay her first vaccination. When Mariana was well we engaged in a back-up plan at Walgreens to obtain her vaccine. Driving to Walgreens and walking in, Mariana was “talking a big game.” She had just witnessed her brother and sister face the needle the week before. She didn’t mind getting a shot as her attitude was “it’s no big deal!” How many of us talk a big game only to end up succumbing to our fear and failing in solitude behind closed doors?
We entered the exam room and the nurse began to prepare the vaccine. Right then, prior to the actual injection and physical pain, my sweet little girl relinquished her previous declaration of bravery. Overwhelmed and burdened by fear, she began to wail. The volume of her scream began to crescendo as another nurse instinctively entered the room to assist with restraining my fear-focused child. A full effort from two nurses and me was required to control and hold down the petite frame of my precious daughter. It was suddenly over as the injection had been fully given. The wailing ceased, my daughter’s body instantly relaxed, and the flow of her tears suspended. Asked how she was, Mariana indicated that it was not as bad as she thought, and “it really didn’t hurt.” The pain and suffering is never as bad as we imagined it to be in our mind. Mariana was very apologetic for her out-of-control behavior. She had chosen, in the moment prior to the injection, not to respond to or believe in my words of encouragement. Then, in the moment after the injection, she fully realized that her fear had been unrealistic and over exaggerated in her mind, emotions, and behavior.
So here we are in line with a second chance to face a similar circumstance. The two hour wait is a roller coaster of emotions as we slowly progress in the line. As we approach the nurse and prepare for the moment of truth, Mariana is again gripped by her fear and begins to cry. Her previous experience, only one week earlier, strangely does not serve as point of positive reference. The present fear obstructs her reasoning and memory of the previous shot that “really didn’t hurt.” However, this time, my husband, her father, is present and holds her while continuously whispering comforting words in her ear. Yet, she continues to fight this re-encounter. Standing aside and watching the ordeal, I developed a different perspective. I questioned “why?” Why is she again overwhelmed by this fear? From my place and position, I was able to clearly see that her fear was unfounded. Yet, now as I reflect, I realize that I often can’t see me own life, my own experiences with such clarity.
Like Mariana’s experience, my present response and thoughts are essentially being controlled by fear. I realize that it is my fear, a fear that I have created and cling to. The encouraging and truthful words whispered in my ear by my loving Father are not initially received, not heard; they are drowned out by a deafening fear. I recognize and see unmistakably that I have allowed this fear to be lord in the moment. Fear has surrounded and encompassed me. Fear is quickly building a brick wall in my mind. The wall appears endless and vast, too high to surmount for an alternative view, and too thick to hear the voice of any outside wisdom.
I see how my fear goes far beyond my present experience. As it is, my fear is actually about the future. I fear not knowing what’s ahead. I fear possible change that is to come. Like fear of the present moment, fear of the future is also paralyzing and results in the absence of movement. I think of the Robert Frost poem that depicts a path in the woods that diverges into two roads. Instead of choosing one of the paths and its destination, I remain at the fork because I fear missing out on the path I am choosing not to take. But I also see that choosing not to choose and standing still, I miss out on both. Motivated by and focused on fear, we fool ourselves. We believe that if we just stay at the divide in the path we can still have both roads, potentially. Instead, remaining at the fork, fear builds its endless, high, and insurmountable wall in our lives.
Recently for me, at this point is when the Lord stepped in, repeating and reminding me of His promised presence with me regardless of the my circumstances or destination. I love Him for the gentle way that He pursues me until I come out from under the vast shadow and move beyond my wall of fear. Only His love can call me out, lift me over, and move me beyond the wall of my fear. In the end, my wall can only be penetrated by the experience of His love. As Paul hoped for the Ephesians, I pray that I also “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length, height and depth, to know the love of Christ,” - a love that casts out fear.