I kind of thought (or wished) that fear would be a phase for me, but I was wrong. Sure, I naturally grew out of (some of) the things I was afraid of as a child, but the truth is it has always stayed with me. The part that has changed and does change isn’t whether or not I am afraid, but what I am afraid of. Fear is the thorn in my flesh that keeps me running back to Jesus, getting to know Him all over again as the one who watches over me; who patiently and repeatedly tells me not to fear and why – because He holds my right hand. To this day, the moment fear creeps into my heart and mind, Isaiah 41:13 is quickly there to combat it. And I think every time I recite it to myself I think back to the day it first gripped my heart. But the fact that it’s forever on my arm now isn’t just “in memory of” that one time in my life when fear crippled me as a little girl; it’s permanent because I will always need to remember who holds my right hand and that He always promises to help me. I will always deal with this in some capacity, I will always be learning how to face it and that I never do that alone, and I will always be learning something new about God in the process because He’s that good – He uses our flawed and weakest parts to reveal more of Himself and perfect His strength in us.
When I was five years old I was in the hospital for a few days while countless doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with my stomach. After that I had PTSD and subsequently, 5-year-old me feared pretty much anything that had to do with illness. This went on for a long time. (I’ll be honest, illness-related stuff still freaks me out a lot of the time.) As a kid I worried so much about getting sick at school that I’d actually make myself feel sick and get sent home. I remember crying and worrying a lot, and talking to my teachers and parents a lot. I cried at school, at home and when I had to leave home. I cried at Thanksgiving one time because I convinced myself that dad wasn’t going to cook the turkey long enough and we’d all get food-poisoning. My parents had to sit me down, talk me through the tears, explain the process of cooking a turkey, and reassure me that dad was frequently checking the temperature to ensure it was done properly. Sure, cue the pathetic “awwww”s and the chuckling, it’s fine. (Also, bless their souls for maintaining enough composure to bring comfort instead of laughter-induced humiliation to my disturbed little self, goodness.)
Pretty soon I feared other things… I was afraid of my parents getting hurt or dying, and that would keep me up at night. I feared something terrible happening to my brother. I would think up horrible and unrealistic scenarios while he was away at summer camp (‘cause that always helps), and then I would worry about how I could possibly deal with that devastating and hopeless feeling of missing someone forever, should any of them come true. Then I’d cry about it and find it necessary to sleep in his bed until he got home. Plus, I just missed him that much; life was uneventful when he wasn’t there to accidentally shoot me in the ear with an air-soft gun. (That really happened.)
Fear crippled me. It seems like it was all I did for a really long time, and it was frustrating because I couldn’t control it. But I vividly remember the day mom gave me the remedy – the verse that became my “life verse;” the very first one that I can remember having such a huge impact on me. Christians use that term a lot, and to be honest, I never really liked the idea of my life verse having something to do with this issue of fear that I’ve struggled with. I’m prideful, so my first thought is about how it highlights a weakness of mine, not the fact that God uses that very thing to reveal His strength. So, as much as I feel that something like Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you…” would be a “better” life verse, I’ve come to terms with reality. Because I still struggle with fear in some capacity, this one’s for me. This is the one that God gave to my mom to give to me one day in 3rd grade. She had written it on a 3X5 card and when I hopped out of the car that winter morning, before I turned to shut the door she handed it to me and said “I found a verse for you!” I kept it until the words were so engrained in my memory that it didn’t matter that suddenly the card was smashed at the bottom of my backpack, amidst gushers wrappers and 37 lip glosses from Target that I’m probably still in debt to her for. I memorized it fast and it’s been my lifeline since that day. I’ve said it to myself over and over and over again, as each new stage of life has brought with it new and different things that stir up fear inside me.
I remembered it all through elementary school, when the thought of illness of any kind sent me into hysterics.
I remembered it all through junior high, when I had to take a speech and drama class that always had me shaking and in tears. (As if I hadn’t cried enough as a child. *insert eye roll*)
I remembered it all through high school, especially that first day at a public school, when I knew like two people, and everyone was bigger and taller than 4’11” 90 lb me, and said the “F” word more times in five minutes than I had heard in my entire life to date.
I remembered it before every swim meet and tennis match, when nervous butterflies were nearly fluttering out of my mouth.
I remembered it all through college, when God called me to step out of my comfort zone in a myriad of ways – into leadership roles at church, and into mission trip opportunities that took me across the world with people I didn’t know.
I remembered it upon graduating from college in May, in between the “God, where the ACTUAL HECK are you??” prayers. I remembered it when I was afraid of being stuck in limbo with no idea where to work or what to do. I remembered it when God invited me to trust Him with that and in the meantime also trust His leading to go to Africa for the summer instead of job-hunt, like I planned. (I said “Ok” to that and about a month into the preparation for the summer, He dropped a full-time job in my lap that I started right when I got home. I’ll never forget that.)
I remembered it when the little things at age five seemed big, and I remember it now, when the bigger things of today seem overwhelming.
And right now, as much as I am growing and thriving in this season, I’m still dealing with fear. Shocking, I know.
I recently attended a conference at church and walked away from it with some solid reminders that Jesus is enough, always. No question. But I also walked away with a deeper awareness of how I struggle with this concept of “enough-ness.” It’s not necessarily that I fear I am not enough… I fear I won’t have enough… because somehow God won’t be enough. I fear that in surrendering, I will wind up lacking something. “God, if I really let you take over all of this, if I give up control of what I want, I lose all of my ideas and that’s a scary vulnerable place to be, and what if you’re not enough and I’m left standing there empty-handed?” But He says that “whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for [His] sake will find it.” That’s a promise as sure as the one in Isaiah 41:13 that tells me why I don’t have to fear; the one I apply right now when my fear is that He won’t come through; that somehow surrendering won’t be worth it. And even though I can tell myself repeatedly that God is not vindictive, when I don’t see the full picture like He does, it’s hard to fully trust that. Satan does what He can to make me doubt God’s goodness, just like he did that day in the Garden. Eve believed him instead of the God who made her and gave her everything she ever needed. She lacked nothing until she doubted God’s goodness and suddenly believed she was missing out. Then the only thing she lacked was faith.
I am just like her.
Like Eve, I lack nothing because God does not withhold good from His people. He provides for us, He takes care of us, and He consistently exercises His sovereignty in our lives, whether we recognize it or not. But also like Eve, even though I have all that I need, and even though God has had a flawless record of proven faithfulness since the beginning of time, I still doubt Him. And I feel Him inviting me into a place where I face that fear of “being without,” letting go of my plans, with complete honesty. I feel Him gently asking me to let him have it – my heart, what I want and my fear that I’ll never have it, once again – and to let Him change my perspective from one that sees where I am as somehow being in a state of “lacking” to one that really sees that He has already given me abundantly more than I could ever ask for. I fear what that process will look like. It sounds good and difficult, and I want it but I don’t for both of those reasons.
So here’s God, purposefully keeping me in the dark about a lot of things, asking me to “dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” right where I am, and to be okay with that. And here’s me, trying to enjoy it, but fearing that I’m somehow going to miss something because I have this very real issue with being patient and slowing down enough to just be. I have a pretty incessant need to know what the next thing is going to be, as well as when and how and what I need to do to prepare for it. And here’s God again, saying “give me all of that and watch me be faithful to you in more ways than you can even fathom.” He alone knows that what I need most is something that’ll make me just sit down and shut up, and right now that’s exactly what He’s giving me – a blurry view of the future that tells me absolutely nothing, no matter how hard I try to figure it out. I can’t see five feet in front of me. I keep running around in circles, trying to plan or plan for whatever the heck is next, but I’m getting nowhere except right back to where I started every time. I’m over here wondering how long will I have this job? What about going back to school? What about getting married? What about living somewhere else? And it’s scary to not know. I’m afraid of it. And He keeps saying “Just wait. This – right now – is your ‘what’s next.’ Stay here for awhile.” I do have a routine and I guess I’m going to stay in it until He decides it needs to change. ‘Cause clearly I have no say in the matter.
There’s an odd kind of silence in all of this, too, but it’s not the kind that makes me want to thrash around and yell “God, why are you ignoring me!? Where are you!?” (Although I’ve been there as well.) Right now it’s a silence that speaks louder than words could. It’s a silence that I know is intentional for a reason that I know will end up being for my good. It’s a silence that still communicates “I hear you, I see you, but you have to trust Me.” And yet somehow fear is still creeping in. Because I go back and forth fighting with my doubts, maybe I fear being forgotten in the waiting, or just being left there for an excessively long time. Maybe I fear going stir-crazy because I’m already a little restless, and it’s so uncomfortable and so against my nature to wait. Maybe I fear that the things I want most in life will be disregarded. Whatever it is and however irrational, there’s fear there right now. Once again. And it’s as real to me as this tattoo.
I am learning that He is enough when routine starts to feel monotonous. He is enough in the waiting and the watching and the hoping and the silence, and when all of that triggers fear. He. Is. enough. And because He is enough, I have nothing to be afraid of. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” Though we will always want things in life because we are human, we cannot truly lack anything because He will always give us more of Himself when we give all of ourselves to Him.
Each form that fear takes is just another opportunity to declare Isaiah 41:13 to myself. Whether it’s fear of sickness, darkness, public speaking, humiliation, surrendering, leaving the country, or being in a state of wanting or waiting or whatever, each one is a chance to re-learn what it looks like to lay that specific fear at the feet of Christ; to let Him use it to grow courage, faith, and a stronger will to obey. Isaiah 41:13 is a promise. I cling to it and have for most of my life, so now it quite literally clings to me in the form of mom’s handwriting. Was it entirely necessary to have it permanently etched into my skin, considering how well I know it by heart and how frequently I think of it? Nah. But it tells a story. Plus, I’m 22 and tattoos are edgy and hip and whatever, and literally no one else in the world has this one. So here we are. Hashtag no rAgretz.
Also, side note, I’ve listened to the song “Tremble” by Mosaic MSC about a thousand times in the past two weeks. It’s perfect.
“Jesus, Jesus, you make the darkness tremble
Jesus, Jesus, you silence fear
Your name is a light that the shadows can’t deny
Your name cannot be overcome
Your name is alive, forever lifted high
Your name cannot be overcome”
No matter what.