As the plane touched down on the runway, I could feel the bump of the landing gear and the gentle tug of the seat belt across my waist as we bounced ever so slightly before coming to a smooth landing on the runway. It was hard to believe that just 8 hours before, in the wee hours of the morning, I had taken off from Virginia soil, leaving behind family and friends. Now, nearing late day I found myself sitting in a plane somewhere in the heart of Oregon ready to embark on the next season of my young 18 year old life.
Getting to this place was a hard fought, but successful victory over fear of the unknown. I was still riding on the exhilarating high that comes from knowing that you might have just stepped into more than you bargained for…and yet excited to see if what you hope to gain is right around the bend. And what did I hope was right around the bend?
Like any normal teenager I suspect that I desired and hoped for freedom and adventure with the surprise of new friendships and purpose knocking at my door.
Looking back it’s funny to me the things I remember as that new season and road stood before me…
It may seem silly and of no real consequence I suppose…like the outfit I was wearing…jeans and a new shirt sporting small flowers…which is quite humorous if you knew me back then. My usual fare consisted of jeans and baggy shirts with a flannel shirt tied around my waist or thrown over my shoulders. Maybe I figured this occasion warranted dressing up a bit…at any rate it made me feel somewhat put together and maybe was an effort to appear more sure of myself than I actually felt…
Isn’t it funny how we turn to the outward things to make ourselves feel better about all the “stuff” that is going on inside. Sometimes it’s clothes, sometimes makeup or how we wear our hair…the many activities we throw ourselves into or the stuff we accumulate around us. Somehow we think that if we can make it look pretty enough maybe no one will notice what is really happening on the inside.
As I meet up with my team, who had arrived from various places across the US, I felt that familiar twinge of fear catch in my heart ever so briefly. The distinct voice of fear whispering…”what did I get myself into?..am I going to fit in?…This is real! I really am thousands of miles from home”…Fear! Pure and unbiased Fear.
Did you know that Fear itself has many faces? Over the years I have discovered that it is true…
There is what I call “Stupid Friend Fear”...you know, the kind that keeps you from jumping off a cliff even if your friends do….you know…the one your mother warned you about! “Well dear, if Sam jumps into a lake are you going to jump too?”(Said in my best Mom voice) …which deciphered means “Your friend just did something really stupid and you really should not follow their example.” Ok…that’s Fear Type 1.
Fear Type 2 is what I call “Healthy Fear”….again, the kind of fear that keeps you from running out into oncoming traffic, touching your hand to live fence wire or sticking your tongue to the flagpole in the dead of winter! You get my point. Immediately your brain and body remind you that you need to stay in a safe place and that to submit yourself to those kind of “forces” can and will be detrimental to your whole person.
Fear Type 3 is another “healthy” type fear…to live in “The Fear of the Lord”. In Proverbs 9:10 it tells us that the “Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.” To me this does not mean I actually fear God in a bad way but that I fear my Heavenly Father out of respect for who He is. A mighty God who, despite the fact that he could squish me like a bug, chooses to love me and call me his own. Because of that I choose to follow his direction for my life because ultimately I know that he has the very best in store for me.
Fear Type 4 is what I call…”Performance Fear”…and centers around the fear of being rejected, of not belonging, of self doubt and low self-esteem. This type of fear can be gripping, especially about our heart and mind and can keep us from truly seeing ourselves as God sees us. And when we fail to see ourselves as God sees us, then we can wallow for years in a pool of self-pity and delusion of our place in life.
Just to re-assure you…I’ve been there! Done that! I think we all have to some degree and we can continue to struggle with this fear throughout our life-time. Unfortunately it is not relegated to the middle school years where everyone feels out of place and is desperately seeking out who they are.
The next kind of Fear...Fear Type 5…is what I call “Irrational Fear”. As the name says, this fear is not rational. It can not be explained away or reasoned with. It’s grip is powerful and can take years to overcome. It is a fear that I believe has become a powerful tool of the enemy. If the enemy can get a door into your heart and mind he will use it against you to keep you in bondage…to keep you immobile as long as possible from truly reaching God’s destiny for your life.
And it was this type of Fear…Fear Type 5…that I was getting ready to walk into at the tender age of 18. For me, it did not start all at once. For some, like myself, it was and can be a gradual process brought on by different life events or experiences. For me, it was subtle…but it was a fear, I believe that found a foothold because of a heart that was already accustomed to letting fear take hold in smaller ways.
I had experienced all the other kind of fears, as most people do through the course of their life. Some of us experience the “Stupid Friend Fear” more than others…but hopefully we all retain our health fear that keeps us safe from harm. The Fear of God was taught to me from the time I was “knee high to a grasshopper”…as my mother would put it…and it was modeled for me by my family and friends as I grew. But…irrational fear would change the landscape of my heart and life for ever….
The summer prior to arriving in Oregon I had, for the first time, experienced the loss of a young friend. I had been a counselor at a local Christian camp and as the summer camping season was winding down to a close we all headed home to our respective places. Sadly, as we traveled home, one of our most popular counselors was in a fatal car crash that snuffed out his life all too quickly. For me, it was the first cold slap of reality that made me realize that maybe..just maybe, I was not so invincible as I had thought. Life could take a nasty turn at the most unexpected times, and it could happen to me.
As I began my time in Oregon, serving in the community, getting to know my housemates and meeting new co-workers and friends I would reflect on the death of this friend and somewhere in that reflecting I began to wonder…could I die too? It was this line of thought that I believe began my descent into a life lived out of “irrational” fear. At this point of my life it was not a paralyzing fear or a full blown panic attack as some experience, but just a inkling in my heart that all was not as safe with the world as I wanted it to be.
Don’t misunderstand me…I enjoyed my time in Oregon over that next ten months. For me it was a time of intense growth as I was stretched in new ways and in new situations. It was a time to grow up, to really be challenged in my faith and a chance to figure out who I was apart from my family. So there was definite good that came from my time away. However, over the course of those ten months the death of three more people…two co-workers and another friend from camp, would send me spiraling into fear…a fear that caused me to want to hid in my room, to never get out of bed and I began to desperately long for home, afraid that if I did not return soon, that my own parents may be gone by the time I arrived.
That kind of fear can not be explained away or merely wished away, but as I found out, only grows stronger without the intervention of God’s spirit and healing power.
(To be continued in “My Journey from Fear to Fearless: Part 3)