When I was a child I had an irrational and very strong fear of wolves. Often, after my parents had put us to bed, I would creep to the top of stairway and call down to them, and they would comfort me. After a while it developed into a routine, and they taught me a prayer to say when I was afraid: “Things I'm scared of, go away, in Jesus' name, Amen.” Simple but comforting, and whenever I was afraid I would call to my parents, who would coach me through the prayer.
It may seem strange that my parents had me pray for the wolves to go away; since they knew that the danger of wolves attacking our home was virtually zero, it seems they might have comforted me with that. In fact, I vaguely remember them telling me that wolves could not possibly come, but it did not help. The prayer, which I imagined obtained the happy result of Jesus keeping us safe from the wolves, did, so I prayed it, night after night, with one or the other of my parents coaching me along. I imagined that God was protecting because I asked him too. And what I never realized, not then and not for many years afterward, was that while I prayed for “things I'm scared of” to go away, I was really praying for protection from the fear itself. How wise my parents were to help me do that.
Almost two decades later, the things I am afraid of are much larger and more real than the wolves. Much more worthy of fear, I delude myself into thinking But in moments of clarity, in moments of truth which closes its ears to the cries of our worry-happy culture, I know that the delusion is just that. In the light of the one whose angelic messengers always say “Be not afraid,” I know that the fears I have now are just as ridiculous as the fear of wolves which haunted me all those years ago.
Fear, as a fleeting emotion, is perfectly natural. Life is precarious, and there are moments in which it is absolutely necessary to cry, as Jesus did in the garden after the Last Supper, “Father, I'm scared.” For me, the problems come not when I give that cry, but when I forget to give it, when I turn in upon myself and let my fear simmer. It is then that fear becomes a habit.
And while fear as an emotion is natural, fear as a habit is cancerous. If I let it, it quite literally eats away at my soul. Which is, of course, how the Breeder of Fear likes it. The Prince of Light, the only true conquerer of that Breeder, is standing by to fly to my assistance, but if I do not ask him he will not come; that is the burden he has put on himself.
Months ago my sister and I had a conversation during which we reached an insight that keeps pushing itself back into my mind. (When this happens it is almost always a sign that the thought is far more important than I imagine.) The insight was a simple one: that, despite our fearing many things in the past and present, God has always provided for us. Our fears have sometimes come true (for example, Bryan and I have been forced to wait for our children, as I feared would happen) but through it God has continued to provide everything we needed. Which means that I do not fear that God has not or is not providing, merely that he will not continue to do so. Based on his past record this is clearly ridiculous.
I am learning, with many missteps and much stumbling, that the only real response to fear is that which our Savior gave in the garden: “Father, help!” There are not many options here, there is only one: I turn to God, or I am doomed. For me, in this time and all future ones, it is as simple as that.
And if sometimes I am praying for the annihilation of the things I fear, and sometimes I am praying for the annihilation of fear itself, I don't think it makes a difference. It is only the praying that matters.