I have been fearful before. A fire that threatened my voice. A child trapped in the bewildering world of autism and my inability to do anything about it. The despair and loneliness after desertion. The challenge of raising three boys alone. The wondering of whether questioning my faith was equal to losing it. I have known fear in my life. We all have.
Earlier this year I faced a fear unlike any I had ever known. Fear that I was dying and that, before dying, I was losing my mind. A stroke is a terrifying encounter. There is no pain. Just bewilderment and fear. Nothing does what it is supposed to do. Where are you? For a brief moment you become lost in a strange place that is not your home. Yet it is. You tell your arm to move and, instead, it falls. You attempt to speak but are met with silence. You decide to focus but your eyes flutter and roll.
Soon, it has all passed and you feel fine and are shocked when the test returns with the word ‘stroke’. Fear. As therapy begins you discover you have lost far more than you had realized. A hundred little words you have known all your life; words that you are sure you knew what they meant, but you don’t anymore. Your words begin to stall, stammer and stumble. At times they slur. Often with the slurring and your occasional loss of balance you are sure there are those who assume you are a drunk. You feel terribly terribly alone. You are afraid.
You are not alone in your fear. Fear is universal. The turtle withdrawing into its shell. The birds rushing out of a canopy of trees as you enter a forest. A crawdad scurrying under a rock when a finger is placed into it’s stream. A child holding their father’s hand tightly on the first day of school. A parent as their child drives away to enter into their future – without them. Fear is a part of being alive. Something each of us share with each other.
So, if fear is universal, what is its purpose? What is it teaching us? The longer I live and encounter fear, the more I see how others face it, I have come to believe something. I am convinced that more often than not fear is our reaction to encountering, or at least moving closer to, truth. The stagnant are rarely fearful. Shallowness is often a warm buffer from fear. If you do not face fear you do not grow, move forward, live. Death is safe but it is also dead.
When Peter took those steps onto the water and he began to sink, in fear he called out to Jesus. In faith he believed despite his fear. Fear was still there. It was still part of the equation driving him forward. While fear drove him to a place where he had never been closer to his Lord, his friends sat safely back in the boat. Think about that and the next time fear comes your way and ask yourself if truth is right beyond it’s horizon.