Monday, August 29, 2016

My Deepest Fear

When I was about 15 years old and living in California, one warm evening I was baby-sitting a couple of little boys.  I was watching them play outside, and they climbed into the bed of the pick-up truck that was sitting in the driveway.  I remember that this made me nervous, as the boys were only about two and four years old, but they assured me that they were allowed to play there.  So I went against my better judgment and let them jump around.

I was watching them carefully, but before I could stop it, the toddler slipped off the ledge and fell.  Onto his head.  Onto the concrete driveway.

He instantly started screaming.  I brought them into the house in a panic.  I did everything I could think of to calm the screaming boy, but nothing worked.  He screamed for a long time.  I can't remember how long, but it was until his parents came home at least an hour or two later.

I told them he had fallen, but I did not tell them that he had fallen out of the truck.  I was overwhelmed by a terrible sense of horror that this had been my fault, that I shouldn't have let him play there and I should have been watching him more carefully.  I never told my parents, and I never told his parents what really happened.  I was terrified of being deemed irresponsible.

As far as I know, the child was perfectly fine.  But the scenario has haunted me since then, especially once I learned more about concussions and brain injuries and what could have happened that day.  I realize now that my irresponsibility was less about letting him play in the truck, and more in my lack of calling for help.

A few years ago, while living in Tanzania, a young boy stayed with us for a couple of weeks while his parents were traveling.  One night, the power went off, and since he was afraid of the dark, I lit two candles.  I put one on the desk in the guest room, and one one the washing machine in the bathroom, in case he needed to use it.  The candles were in plastic bowls.

The power came back on an hour or so later, and the boy blew out the candle in his room.  But the candle in the bathroom continued to burn, and in the middle of the night, we were awakened by the boy's cries.  When I opened our bedroom door, the hallway was full of smoke.  The candle had burned through the plastic bowl, caught the plastic lid of our washing machine on fire, and had continued to melt through all the plastic parts of the machine.

We were able to put the fire out easily, but the smoke was incredibly thick.  To this day, I am haunted by the what ifs.  What if the boy hadn't blown out the candle in his room?  What if the smoke had made him unconscious....or worse?  And what on earth was I thinking in putting a candle in a plastic bowl?

Marianne Williamson famously wrote, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."

I know this quote has been the climax of many inspiring movies, but I just can't agree.  I do agree that I am afraid of my power.  But not in a good way.  My deepest fear is the devastation I am capable of.

It's not just my darkness--that creature within me that must be tamed--that I fear.  It's my frailty, my weakness, my humanness that terrifies me the most.  The lapse in judgment that kept me from telling the truth to the toddler's parents.  The pure foolishness of putting a candle in a plastic bowl.

Like everyone, I suppose, I am afraid of what could happen to those I love.  I have occasional anxiety about natural disasters or terrorist attacks.  I am mildly OCD and triple-check the door locks at night.   I am afraid because I know I cannot control my world.  But what do I fear the most?  That something terrible will happen, and it will be my fault.  I cannot control myself.  

I grew up as part of the self-esteem generation, which is why it is supposed to be our "light" that most frightens us.  We were told that our top priority should be finding our identity, following our hearts, and reaching our dreams.  The problem is that along with discovering our power for success comes the discovery of our capacity for failure.  Serious failure.  Because no matter how many times you tell me otherwise, there are times I will always be inadequate.  Sure, I might do some pretty good stuff in my lifetime.  But I will make the wrong decision sometimes, and other times I will make terrible decisions.

I can't fix that.  And so I am afraid.

So what's the antidote?  Looking in the mirror and trying to convince myself that I am smart, capable, and powerful is just not going to work.  Or even the Christian version of self-esteem talk--I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me--falls flat.

The only way I can defeat my fear is to take the "I" out of the sentence all together.  Why does it matter what Amy Medina is capable of--either good or bad?  What matters is what God is capable of.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful.  He is good and can do anything He wants to do.  He is the one who is in control of this universe.  And even when I do something evil or just plain stupid, He is sovereign over that too.

"Does failure on our part to act prudently frustrate the sovereign plan of God?  The Scriptures never indicate that God is frustrated to any degree by our failure to act as we should.  In His infinite wisdom, God's sovereign plan includes our failures and even our sin."  (Jerry Bridges, Trusting God)

It is there--and only there--that I am no longer afraid.  The longer I look at myself, the harder I try to convince myself that I've really got my life under control, the more afraid I am.  The more that I just stop thinking about myself all together, and focus on the One who created me, that's where everything clicks into place.  

Which is why I must continually lift up my eyes.  Fear makes me focus inward, and ultimately that will only breed more fear.  There's not much in myself that can alleviate my anxiety.  What I need is to look up.  To look out.  God gave us this mind-blowingly massive universe so that we can comprehend our smallness.  The vastness of the ocean, the intricacy of a flower, the realization that something far, far bigger than us is going on.  Who am I to think that I have the power to thwart God's plan?  I can rest in the knowledge that God is a trillion times stronger than me.

There is a profound comfort in understanding my insignificance in the universe, and yet my significance in God's sight.  It is there that my fear dissolves.

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