My Deepest Darkest Fear
Oct 08, 2008 by Nancy Buschart | 0 Comments
At the end of "Encountering God: Face-to-Face With Fear" (my last blog post) I promised to tell you about my two-year old daughter, a purple snowsuit, and my deepest, darkest fear. Allow me some family stories to set the stage.
When I was first married, I found it hard to believe that God loved me enough to give me this wonderful man. I called him my "dinosaur egg." He was the kindest man I had ever met -- truly good. I thought perhaps God had set him aside, like a Jurassic Park dinosaur egg, to be hatched as a one-of-a-kind, heretofore extinct, truly good and eligible husband just for me.
Shortly after I married my dino, I began to experience a low-level panic. What if God's plan was to give me this wonderful, dream-come-true man, only to take him away? What if God wanted me to be like Elizabeth Elliot--a widow traveling the country telling a tragic and heroic story of love and sacrifice for God and others?
My husband didn't die. After five years together, our first daughter was born. Amanda joined our world and vastly multiplied it with joy. "Ah," I reasoned, "God is not going to take my Dino David. He is going to take my daughter!" So, I exchanged the fear of losing my husband with the fear of losing my precious daughter.
Amanda lived and grew and became a lovely little girl. We moved from New Jersey to Saskatchewan, Canada, where we awaited the arrival of our second daughter. By now I was busy with the daily-ness of life while the fear of death was subconscious, like an underground stream that exists to nourish the life above.
Fear leeches through the deepest regions of our souls and makes decisions for us.
Meredith came into the world smiling and girgling and fun. She had a full head of hair with personality to match. She walked early and, once she had the balance thing down, she began to run! Faster than a speeding bullet, she climbed onto and underneath, jumped and spun, and ran. By her second birthday, we acknowledged that birthdays are to be celebrated because the child is still alive despite her dare-devil antics.
To the grocery store and to retreat
One wintry Friday afternoon, I bundled my girls into their snowsuits and headed to the grocery store. I was picking up a few things for David and the girls because they were going to spend the weekend at home while I escaped to retreat at St. Michaels -- a Franciscan monastery nearby. The girls and I made it through the store to the checkout where I paid for our purchases. As I got my change, Meredith vanished. Amanda hadn't seen her disappear, neither had the woman who gave me my change.
Meredith had Houdini-ed her way through the automatic doors and stood in the street.
This is where subterranean fear explodes to the surface. In my mind's eye, I watched as the child in the purple snowsuit was struck by a car and spun in the air in a perfect figure eight.
I ran the few steps to the purple snowsuit, still, in reality, standing in the street gleefully celebrating her independence. Child collected, groceries retrieved, Amanda confused and following behind, I got all of us into the car, where I gripped the steering wheel and my fear gripped me. "God, I can't do it," I cried. "I can't keep them safe."
Two hours later, at St. Michaels, alone with my fear in the presence of my God, I wept. I knew the timing was "uncanny." My striving had failed and my greatest fear -- death -- had shown itself in the image of my mind. Haunted, terrorized, my heart was utterly open.
A word, a scripture and a picture
The hours of retreat were graced by God's presence. We dug in, got to work.
To my "I can't do it. I can't keep them safe," God's Spirit replied, "I know you can't, but I can. Will you let me?"
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
He gently leads those that have young.
In the retreat center bookstore, I found a picture.
Jesus holding a child-my child, my children. His arms and hands, large and powerful, holds the child next to his heart. His gaze, serene and confident, tends to the child's heart-needs and physical needs. The child, free from fear, relaxed and calm, rests her reddened cheek on his shoulder.
At first, Meredith was the child in the picture, and I felt peace and relief seeing her with him. A surprise awaited, though, when after a few hours with the words, the scripture and the picture, I myself was the child. His strong arms held me and looked lovingly over my shoulder as I rested in his arms.
From autobiography to the moral of the story
Death is the great fear.
I believe that I am not alone, that others fear death too.
...we are afraid. We're doing our best to forget something that terrifies us: we fear the limitation, the mother of all limitations, what William James called the "worm at the core" of human pretensions to happiness. What we want to banish from our awareness is death...this fear is embedded in our unconscious minds. Attempts to keep it buried shape our character and influence our behavior far more than we realize, often becoming the hidden cause of anxieties and neuroses.
Fear of death compromises who God created me to be
I would not say that in those early days I was a bad wife, or a bad mother, but I would say that when I loved my husband through the lens of anticipating his death, I did not love him wholly. When I nurtured and fed and disciplined my daughters through the anxiety of losing them, I was loving them poorly, partially. Loving others motivated by fear always brings a little toxin into the relationship. I become overprotective, controlling, a worrier. I squelch risk, squash adventure, shrink from the unknown or the new. I live small and ask those whom I love to live small with me.
But, what if?
Recently, I spoke with a new dad, the father of a precious baby. He is surprised by his anxieties and is experiencing panic over thoughts of loss that attend, and suck the life out of, his thoughts of joy. He admits to doing crazy things because of fear.
Bad things happen every day. The news is full of them, the church community prays for friends who are touched by them. We all know that "it won't happen to me" is only a façade of denial and wishful thinking and that sometimes superstition more powerfully directs our actions than trust in a loving God.
The young father, who is also a young pastor, says, "God loves me more than I love my daughter. Anxiety will be there--hurts will come. But, I don't want them to. I can't imagine that kind of pain. I don't want to imagine that pain. But, I can't read scripture and walk away saying it's okay for me to be in bondage to this fear."
The opportunity of disaster
One of my dearest friends is one of those for whom the church prayed when the unspeakable happened. Her seven-year old was killed in a tragic accident that has changed many lives in the more than twenty years since that terrible day. From the vantage point of years hence, she has wise counsel for those living in fear.
"Death of a loved one is either danger or opportunity." It is danger when it leads to stuck-ness -- when bitterness, anger and unforgiveness take root in one's soul, there will be no growth, no resolve, love dies and loveliness becomes an ugly hag entwined around the soul. The heart shrivels and the clock sticks and destines its victims to repeat the horrible day over and over again.
Crisis can also be opportunity to see something good come from something bad. My friend has become a Stephen Minister and also one who trains others to be Stephen's care givers. She is very good at it, I know, because she has cared for me. She lives 2 Corinthians 1: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
"Life happens," she says. "It's not if, it's when. Everyone is a victim at some point." Every crisis is an opportunity to test our assumptions. "Those who know God -- who He is and who He is not, who know that He loves them -- will make it through the pain." She said, "I lost so much of my early motherhood worrying about my health, my kids. And then the worst thing happened. I had no control. I realized I had never had control. My worrying didn't change anything or keep anything from happening. Once I realized that God worked in me, I wanted more. I studied Jesus, dug into his life. And, I survived the worst mess possible."
Death is not the worst thing that could happen
We live in the tension of the "already/not yet." Death is still the final enemy, the enemy that has been conquered in Christ's death and resurrection and the enemy that will be conquered finally at Christ's return. In the meantime, we draw near to God and He draws near to us. He is trustworthy and invites us to "cast all our anxieties upon Him because He cares for us."
Several years ago I learned that the fifth century Rule of Benedict tells its readers, "Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die." Instead of resisting the inevitable, pretending that death won't come for me or for those I love, we are encouraged to daily remember. I found great freedom in this little saying because as I remember my mortality, I make choices to live more fully.
Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us or to those we love. The worst thing that could happen would be to choose to live embittered rather than to choose to receive God's grace extended to me at all times, in even the darkest times. The worst thing that could happen would be to miss the human love and relationship with my daughters and my husband because I wanted to spare my heart some possible future pain. The worst thing that could happen would be to suffer the pointless anxiety of trying to control my world rather than surrendering to the One who is God and who knows me and loves me more than I love my family.
So, now I no longer pray, "Protect my girls, my husband." Rather, I pray, "Give them what they need to become the women, the man you created them to be." Be it success or failure, joy or sorrow, health or illness, life or death-give them what will draw them, and me, ever nearer to You.
Asking The Three Questions
Who is God?
- Loving and good, strong and wise, transcendent and immanent, "gently leading those with young."
Who am I?
- Safe in God's strong arms. He holds me in the palm of His hand.
How am I living?
- "Give my loved ones and me what we need, whatever we need, to become who You created us to be."
©2008 Vine, Vision & Voice
Nancy R. Buschart