This momentary fear.
I’ve spent a significant chunk of my 25 years cowering under the shadow of fear.
Friend, I’ll be honest…
I’ve feared that those I love most will “move on” from me before I’m remotely ready to “move on” from them.
I’ve feared that the recurring struggles of my past will keep recurring in my future – leaving me to spin round and round on a hamster wheel to nowhere, exhausted but unable to step out of the maddening cycle.
I’ve feared that I will never look the way I’ve envisioned my “ideal” self to look, leaving the “real” me to live as only a fraction of the me I’ve fantasized into mental existence.
I’ve feared that people will misrepresent my actions, misunderstand my words, and mistrust my choices.
I’ve feared that some of my fondest dreams will be sifted right out of the sands of my future.
I’ve feared loss – of friends, of reputation, of comfort, of attention.
I’ve feared conflict – the sort of conflict that I cannot “fix,” no matter how earnestly and sincerely I attempt to do so.
I’ve feared my own shortcomings cropping up with ferocity at all the wrong moments, when I would much prefer to be “doing great.”
I’ve feared gaining weight.
I’ve feared being alone.
I’ve feared being forgotten, unneeded, unwanted.
I have feared.
And do you know what? Many of the fears I’ve listed above have become reality in my life. I have been misunderstood and misrepresented. I have lost friends I counted dear. I have faced conflicts too convoluted for me to fix. I have gained weight. I have been alone. I have watched as some of my dearest dreams and ambitions were laid to rest in graves from which I could not resurrect them.
I have trembled and sobbed and clenched my fists, begging God to let me please just have this or that, to please just spare me this or that… to please keep this or that from happening to me.
And sometimes – at key moments of my panic and fervent begging – He has said “No.”
I am not trying to be depressing. Please understand me… I am in fact speaking of the greatest instances of liberation my heart has ever known. The hardest gifts of God – the answers that momentarily feel far more like a gash than grace – are the very things over which I now rejoice with the most intimate of celebrations in my heart.
What I am saying is this: in the moments when my “worst” fears have been realized I cry and writhe and squirm and moan in panic and anguish… until eventually I exhaust myself and fall silent. And friends, in that silence … in that silence comes the sunrise. When the dust settles and I look around expecting to see my life in ruin, preparing to lament the destruction of my hopes, I find instead something diametrically different… I find the freedom for which I’ve so long yearned.
God is wiser than we are … entirely wiser. He knows that the things/persons to which we cling most tightly – with a death grip and with a lump in our throat that screams “If I lose this I’ll fall apart!” – are the very things which are a malignant cancer to our liberty, to our very lives. God is in the business of rescuing, redeeming, transforming, and saving. He carries out no other kind of business with His children. He is no kill-joy. He is no bully. He is not – not ever – an impulsive vengeance taker.
If we walk through the realization of a certain fear, then we walk through it with the absolute promise of Christ – backed by the full measure of the glorious faithfulness of God – that we are shedding a decaying, enslaving skin for a life-soaked, eternally satisfying, and unquestionably liberating garment of Grace.
Whether it feels like that immediately or not, that is the Truth.
It’s the Truth.
Consider the following segment from C.S. Lewis’ book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third of his Chronicles of Narnia stories). For the full context of this excerpt, you must read the book. But here I’ll suffice it to say that Eustace is a boy who was greedy for treasure as well as self-centered (without entirely realizing it), and in his single-minded craving for the enchanted/forbidden gold, he is turned into a dragon (quite unfortunate for him because the gold bracelet he had put on his arm as a boy now cuts deeply and painfully into his much larger dragon arm). This of course makes him miserable, but his freedom comes – thanks to Aslan the Christlike Lion – in a way that I think many of us can find applicable…
“I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me… it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it — if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”
“You mean it spoke?”
“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last when we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden – trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well. . . .
“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt — and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me — I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”
That has so often been me: getting myself into obsessions and fixations and situations that are harmful or enslaving to my heart and emotions and mind… and then fearing so terribly the one thing that can set me free. Yes, pain is involved, and I must face that pain. I have to let the fear, in its own way, be realized. But before me stands the great Lion, Jesus Himself, ready and eager to tear through the dead skin that suffocates and blinds me. And once the moment has passed, once the smarting stab has eased, I find that I am liberated. I am like Eustace, swimming and splashing in perfectly delicious water.
Just as I have had – and still have – fears, I’m fairly certain you might now have them as well… the kind of fears that keep you up some nights, and haunt you some afternoons. And if any part of this brief entry I’ve written sticks with you, may it be the courage to trust the Intimate Goodness of God in the face of your fears.
If you take Him at His word, you will discover your own painful and priceless liberation – difficult in the moments you walk through it, but eternally and enormously worth it for all time afterwards.
Friend, don’t cower in fear. See, I’m right here next to you – in the same struggle… Together, let’s stand up and see the tender deliverance of our God. He will never fail us, come fear or pain or piercing.
The sun is rising, and we will be free.