"For God did NOT give us a spirit of FEAR, but a spirit of power and love and of self-control."
(2 Timothy 1:7)
Then why do I struggle so much with fear?
I can't remember if there was a time in my life I would have used the word "brave" to describe myself. Probably not. But I don't think I would have ever described myself as fearful. Then I grew up, got married, had kids, and something about loving my people so fiercely and being responsible for little ones revealed a capacity for fear that I didn't know existed.
There's a line from the movie Avengers that comes when Captain America tells Bruce Banner, "Now would be a really good time to get angry." Bruce Banner turns around and says, "That's my secret, Captain. I'm always angry."
I used that line with my husband not too long after I saw that movie for the first time. Fear...I told him...that's my secret. I'm always walking along the edge of fear. It's my default emotion in times of great pressure, stressful situations, big decisions, disappointment, confrontation, basically anything uncomfortable, I tend towards fear.
My mom had a seemingly normal broken rib last week (painful and slightly inconvenient for her well-planned schedule) from a fall through a hole in their floor due to a remodel. Several days after the break, labored breathing led to a second ER visit where a scan showed her chest cavity filling with blood from an artery somewhere around that broken rib. Normally those small arteries clot on their own, but as they watched the chest tube continue to fill with blood the doctor made the call that surgery needed to be done quickly. She needed a blood transfusion and they needed to find and tie off the artery before she lost too much more blood. The cardiothoracic surgeon, one of the best in the state, had never had to go to surgery because one rib (ONE RIB) had caused such chaos. My brother and dad, both anesthesiologists, had never once been in a surgery like this for one rib. Normally such a surgery would be related to several broken ribs and other internal injuries. So much for having the comfort of the family doctors~~they were as baffled as anyone why this one little rib was wreaking such havoc in her body.
Here comes the fear...
I texted my husband with the update..."I'm afraid"...
It takes all my energy to go into battle against it while I wait...
Through years of recognizing my tendency to be flooded with fear in the waiting, I've realized that I'm completely too weak to fight the battle of fear on my own. I have a pile of 3x5 cards with handwritten verses that help me remember TRUTH when everything in me is wanting to cave in to fear. I pull out my fear verse cards and I recite...and I don't really hear the verses at first, nor do I fix my mind on them at first, but I still recite. There's power in the Word of God. It's all I know to do that works. Only God's Word soothes...and even that is a fight because in those moments when I'm most afraid, I tend to actually fear Him (not the Godly fear that leads us to bow and worship), but the fear that causes us to tremble at what He might ask us to walk through. So, I have to pull out my verses to remind myself of who He is and what He promises. Over and over again I recite (sometimes out-loud, sometimes in my mind) because I'm an incredibly slow learner and it takes me a while to hear what He has to say to me. I have to remind Him (as if He's not perfectly aware) I'm much too weak for this, Lord. His word reminds me that YEP I AM WEAK, but that's okay because HE IS STRONG. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Psalm 16:8 "I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken."
(Tell that to my quivering stomach.)
Psalm 46:10 "BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD."
(Shaking Soul, BE STILL, and KNOW that I AM GOD.)
Isaiah 26:3-4 "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is kept on thee because he trusts in thee."
(I trust you, Lord. I trust you, Lord. I trust you, Lord. Ummm, Lord? Waiting on that peace here.)
John 14:27 "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled; do not be afraid."
(Lord, but I'm so afraid.)
Psalm 62:1-3 "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation--He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." Repeat as a command to my soul. "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation--He is my fortress, I will never be shaken."
Isaiah 43:1-2 "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; YOU ARE MINE. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."
Isaiah 41:10 "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
My boys' beloved choir teacher recently held a concert where all of her choirs sang beautiful hymns. She shared that as a young girl she used to memorize the hymns sung in her church so she wouldn't have to use the hymnal. In later years, she told us that the words to those hymns comforted her as she walked through difficult times in her life. She let us in on her motivation for picking these hymns, "These kids don't know that in memorizing these hymns, I've given them an arsenal to use later in life when things get tough."
Preparation for battle.
Verse cards are that for me...an arsenal to combat the lies of the enemy...to combat my weakness to fall prey to fear.
I know the exact chain of events where I realized how powerless I am in moments when life is shaken. I've told the story before because it was eye-opening to see that I AM NOT STRONG and but by God's grace will I completely fall apart in tragedy.
Years ago, we had just moved to Tucson and my boys were ages 1 and 3. I remember my husband leaving to fly one day and mentioning that the flight was going to be a challenge so could I pray for him. He'd been a military pilot several years by this point so I didn't fret every time he was in the air like I did early in his pilot training. He was a flight lead and a pretty okay pilot. He was leading a friend of ours that day on a flight; this friend had much more experience than my husband so I probably didn't think anything about it. I can't even remember if I prayed for him.
But I do remember the call later that evening.
"It's me. I'm okay. It was terrible. My wingman bailed. I had to emergency land. They are bringing me back---I'll be to the area in a couple hours."
That was it. He was just gone and I had no idea what in the world he was talking about. My little guys were naked ready for a bath and so I washed them quickly in the water as I thought about his phone call. Very unsettling. My phone started ringing again just as I got them out of the tub.
"Our pilots are all accounted for." That was it. I think it was the squadron commander's wife who called. I was still so confused. I said something to her like "Preston said his wingman bailed. Is something going on?" She paused, "All our pilots are accounted for." The second time she said it I knew what this was. I'd heard of it from other wives...been told the protocol at every base we had been stationed...but I'd never been in a squadron that had to utilize its emergency phone procedure. It meant a plane had gone down and a call meant your pilot was safe. The fear closed in quickly.
Someone else called.
"Turn on the tv."
I only heard bits and pieces.
One pilot found.
Searching for the other pilot.
My husband's call repeated in my mind.
"It was terrible." (Collision)
"I'm okay." (One Pilot Found.)
"My wingman bailed." (Searching for the other pilot).
"I'll be back in a couple hours." (But what has happened and who will you be after this?)
It didn't occur to me that I had received a call that said all our pilots are accounted for. It didn't cross my mind that there were two other A-10 squadrons on our base. My husband said "terrible", "wingman bailed," and "I'm okay" in one quick burst. I knew the story on the news had to involve him which meant our good friend had to be the one missing. In that moment, I became absolutely paralyzed with fear. From the top of my head to the tips of my toes, every cell in my body participated in the anxiety. Thinking of my husband and what he must have been through in the last hours...aching at the thought of the missing pilot and his family (our dear friends also with small children)...wondering what happens now (was it his fault?)...paralyzed I sat on the floor as my naked boys ran around and played and tried to get my attention (and maybe even peed all over the carpet)...I sat staring at the TV begging God for news that they had found the pilot alive. I loved the Lord, believed His good in my life, studied the Bible, and memorized scripture, but the fear that overtook me in that moment stunned me.
Where was my faith as I sat there waiting? I felt it abandoned me.
The phone rang a little later.
"Do you know Preston is okay?"
Our friend...the friend I thought was the missing pilot...his voice echoed through the phone telling me my husband was okay. I was still so confused.
"What? What? What is going on? I know he's okay. What about you? He called me and told me the flight was terrible. His wingman (I thought YOU) bailed. They are bringing him back from somewhere a couple hours away because he had to emergency land."
Our friend's voice again, steady, "I just realized you might think we were involved. He doesn't even know what's going on back here so that's why he wasn't more clear in what he said. I did bail out of the flight...BEFORE TAKEOFF...because my jet broke. I didn't even get airborne. Preston's jet had some issues when he was flying and he had to emergency land at this other airfield because it wasn't safe to fly back to Tucson. Someone from that airfield is driving him back. It WAS a terrible flight. But not a terrible flight in light of what's going on back here. There has been a crash and they are searching for one pilot, but all the pilots in our squadron are accounted for. "
I got off the phone and sobbed (and sobbed and sobbed.) I cried in thankfulness that my husband was okay and that our friend was fine and that my husband's cryptic phone call had absolutely nothing to do with what I was watching on the news. I bawled for the wife and mama who hadn't gotten a call and was watching the news while her world blew into a thousand little pieces as they searched for her husband...I cried for the other pilot, the one found. For a moment in time I had thought I belonged to the surviving pilot and I had tasted one tiny drop of the hard road that guy was going to walk as the survivor.
Much too late that night, when someone brought him back into town, I got a chance to hang on to my husband while he profusely apologized for his poor choice of words in describing his flight. I explained to him my response as I had waited for the news...how I was engulfed in paralyzing fear...how I couldn't even focus on our naked children ("Are they still naked?" he asked. "I don't know," I said. "I think they had fruit snacks for dinner."). I hung my head as I explained that I always envisioned myself being so strong when crisis hit...that I thought I would be this pillar of great trust in the Lord whenever life around me started shaking...but instead, there I sat, so afraid.
I think all of us tend toward some sort of sinful exaggeration of emotion when left to our own strength. We can be overwhelmed by our anger, depression, despair, self-pity, FEAR, dependency, bitterness, or any other spirit that sets itself against the truth of God 's Word. I'm learning how important it is to prepare. Arm your arsenal with truth. It's hard to build a faith and fight the battle when the raging winds are howling and the fire seems to be closing in. Spend the calm days in God's word building up faith so when the storm hits that faith can be the lifeline to which we cling.
As I got the call that my mom's surgery was successful and they had found and cauterized the leaking artery, I was once again struck by the power that fear can have in my life. I was reminded of how enslaving my own fear can be. I actually fear my ability to fear like an unbeliever (see, I'm always afraid of something.)
"Will I ever conquer the tendency to jump straight into overwhelming fear?" I don't know, but I do know every time I struggle through it, there is an opportunity to lean into God's word and practice believing it. My fear reminds me of how weak I am and also reminds me of His faithfulness in pushing me toward a more trusting faith that believes His good no matter what assignment He gives me.
Lord, help me to have the discipline to build my faith before the storm hits and help me to arm myself for battle before the first arrow flies. Help my unbelief that leads me down that road of fear.
"Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:25-26)