I thought a lot about fear this last semester. It was largely a fear rooted in uncertainty and the hazy future I have lying ahead of me.
It’s not like fear is a new thing for me, either. I’ve always been a slightly skittish person, and have never enjoyed being scared like all the insane people who helped paranormal activity become a smash hit. It doesn’t even have to be as scary as that…when I was five, I was haunted for weeks after watching “Little Nemo and His Adventures in Slumberland.”
It may sound cute and cuddly, but don’t let the name fool you.
This movie was complete terror for me.
Nemo was not a cute clown fish searching for his father, but a child who was brought on his flying bed to Dreamland. The king of Dreamland gave him the key to the entire kingdom, but told him not to open one door, where the nightmare king was trapped. Well of course Nemo –stupid kid–opened the door and the nightmare king took over all of dreamland, etc, etc. (Sounds a little bit like another story I know where a King gave a man and a woman access to an entire kingdom and asked them just to not eat the fruit of one tree…)
Point being, after watching what my mom thought was going to be a cute children’s film, I spent the next two weeks engulfed in fear that the nightmare king was living in my closet and that if I closed my eyes to sleep he could and would invade my dreams. Every night, my dad would tuck me in, and I would spend the next two hours paralyzed with fear. Every night for two weeks, I would creep into my parent’s room, shake my mom awake, and beg for permission to scramble up between parents in bed. It drove my parents insane…apparently I kicked in my sleep. Whoops.
I was a senior this year. In college. It was a strange place to find myself. I didn’t belong in the “college scene” anymore, but I had no place in the “real world,” a place I saw as scenes on television shows and movies but I’m still not sure will ever exist for me. My college career ended appropriately at the end of my fourth year, and although I was supposed to graduate in December, I was in no hurry to rush the future. Still, as I looked toward May, when I would hear my name, walk across the stage, and shift my tassel, I didn’t think I’d be any more ready at that point in time than I would have been in December and I still didn’t have a clue what God had in store for my life.
So yes. I was afraid.
I felt as though I had no idea where I was going, and it was a paralyzing feeling that, instead of moving forward, left me stuck in a suffocating state.
And for a while I tried to hide that fear. I was ashamed that even though I know that God is the only one I have to fear, and that, fortunately, I’m on His side, I tried to deny that I let that emotion rise up in my heart. The Jonah in me thought, “maybe He won’t know.” Don’t worry, I’m frequently reminded of my own foolishness.
This made me think of Peter.
Peter makes a lot of mistakes. And I mean A LOT of them. I think that’s why I relate to him.
I make a LOT of mistakes. And I try really hard to learn from them, but I’ve realized that “trying harder,” “doing more,” and those achievement type statements don’t get me very far.
Point being, one of my favorite stories with Peter is in Matthew 14 when Jesus walks on water to the disciples who are out on a boat. The disciples find themselves in their own nightmare land, thinking Jesus is a ghost.
Jesus tells them, quite plainly, “Do not be afraid.” And Peter, bless his heart, says what he probably thinks is the smartest thing ever: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Way to go Peter. As if storms and ghosts weren’t a scary enough situation, why don’t you try walking on water while you’re there…I’m sure that’ll make things better.
So Jesus tells Peter to come, and Peter steps out of the boat onto the water.
The first few steps go great. Psh…walking on water? Piece of cake.
But then the waves and the storm pick up, and what happens? Peter is afraid. Taking his eyes off of Christ, he begins to sink.
This is where I found myself when I was five years old laying in my bed, worrying about the nightmare king, and this is where I find myself now.
And fear can drown you. If you let your fear be your focus, it will pull you down into the water and devour you.
Luckily that is not the end of Peter’s story, or the end of mine, either.
What changes our fate is what we do with this fear. Do we let it consume us, hoping our own strength and plans can save us, or do we cry out like Peter did “Lord, save me!”
Immediately. Yes, that’s right, immediately. Not after the water covered Peter, or after the waves took him away, but immediately, Jesus reached out and caught him in His arms.
Were they still standing in a lake in the middle of a storm? Yep. But Peter was safe in the arms of the Father, and so am I. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be terrified, in the middle of a storm, embraced by my Savior, than still sitting on the boat alone.
One of my recent favorite songs by this girl named Lindsey Kane is called “The Valley” and the chorus says,
“You didn’t take me out of it, but You joined me in it.
You didn’t lift me out of it, but You lifted me up in it.
You didn’t pull me out of it, but You pulled me toward You in it.
And I know, I’ll be okay.”
Now that I’ve graduated I wish I could say I never feel this way anymore…that fear has magically disintegrated to complete and total certainty and knowledge of God’s will for my life. But let’s be real. That’s just not the way God’s will works.
I did learn something from my final months in college, though. I learned to not let the fear consume me, drown me. That’s where I was stuck for a large portion of last semester. I’d rather just skip over those two hours where I lay in bed terrified. Just like when I was five and I finally climbed up into bed next to my dad, just his presence gave me enough peace to sleep through the night. It didn’t mean that the next day I wasn’t afraid anymore, but the presence of a father can give us that security. So I’d rather just skip over the part where I pretend I’m not scared and let myself sink. I’d rather let him know now.
God, I’m scared. Save me.
It doesn’t make the next step any clearer, but it can give you peace, a peace that transcends all understanding…enough peace to sleep through the night.
And I know, I’ll be okay.