This article was originally published with Convivium magazine.
I distinctly remember as a very young child curling up in my pink Disney “Aristocats” pajamas while my mom read me the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I loved the story and I loved Snow White. I imagined living in a tiny cottage in the woods and being able to call a host of little woodland creatures to my housekeeping assistance. Unfortunately, every fairytale has a villain – an evil nemesis to the beautiful princess who is determined to destroy her. In Snow White, it was the wicked stepmother turned evil witch. With a long, hooded cloak and a giant crooked nose, she was terrifying to my little toddler self. I remember lying in bed, convinced that hiding behind the end of my bed was the witch, ready to grab my toes if I let them peek out of the blanket for even a second. So I made sure my apparently witch-proof blanket was wrapped under my feet and the villain-banishing nightlight was on before drifting off to sleep. And thus ushered in every child’s main fear – the fear of the dark.
Unlike most children, I didn’t grow out of it. It was an oddly selective fear – if I was in a room with someone else, I was totally fine. Slumber parties? No big deal. If there was a bit of light in the room, I was totally fine. So while my peers described the need for blackout drapes and sleep masks in an effort to achieve the complete absence of light that is required for sleep, I left my door opened a crack to see the nightlight in the hall.
Life continued well and good until one day the inevitable happened: we moved. Don’t get me wrong. I was very excited for this move. At 17, I now had a room almost double the size of my previous room, and with a walk in closet. Oh, and the best part? It was a basement bedroom. The idealization of teenage luxury, I finally achieved the “privacy” to which I was so obviously entitled.
Unfortunately, this led to an unforeseen dilemma. You see, leaving the door open a crack is a great thing when all that’s out there is your parents’ room three feet across the hall and your sister’s room four feet to the right, but as it turns out, leaving the door open a crack is NOT a viable option when outside your door waits a long, dark hallway, and your parents are a full floor removed from your obvious inevitable doom. Clearly, the door had to stay shut.
So I tried a series of options. There was the classic, “Oh look, I must have forgotten to turn off my lamp,” and the ever effective, “Wow, I fell asleep doing my homework again.” Leaving the closet light on, and the door opened a crack, proved to be an excellent compromise. Until one day my dad asked me: “Did you forget to turn the light off?”
Now I don’t remember what exactly I said, but I imagine it was something akin to “Oh yeah, homework on the lamp … forgot something in the closet … was reading a book and forgot the closet. Lamp. Forgot the lamp.” Or something equally eloquent.
“Oh. Okay,” my dad said.
He simply says do not worry. It’s not a suggestion or a nice idea. It’s a command, an instruction.
Phew. I was so smooth.
That night, there was a nightlight in my room. And not one of those Winnie the Pooh or Barbie lights you had as a kid. One of those elegant lights that people put in the guest bathroom. I found one in my room and one in the hallway outside. It just sort of appeared, as if it had always been there. My parents never said a word.
It’s funny, the things that scare us, but I think it’s even funnier how embarrassed we are by them. As though fear is unique to us, and no one else ever feels those same sometimes rational, sometimes irrational, feelings. Had one of my parents asked me if I was scared of the dark, or if I wanted a nightlight, I likely would’ve responded with an offended indignation and all the teenage angst I could muster. But they didn’t. A nightlight simply appeared, and they never said a word.
Fear seems to be a chronic illness of the human condition. As children we fear the dark, as we grow older we fear being alone. We are afraid of spiders, or confined spaces, or abandonment within an intimate relationship. Whatever it is, whatever that fear that seems to be a shadow following a step behind us, every person has, does or will experience fear in their life.
We often quote the Lord’s words to Joshua (Joshua 1:9): “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Do we remember that no one tells a person who isn’t afraid not to be afraid? We tell people not to be afraid when they are already afraid. When God spoke through Moses and told the people of Israel not to be afraid (Exodus 14:13, Exodus 20:20), it was because they were afraid. It appears that even in, or perhaps especially in, our times of fear, we are in good company.
When Jesus tells us not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34), he addresses some core worries and fears: worry about our life, what our future will be, if we will have enough food, enough clothing. Will we have enough of everything we need?
Jesus doesn’t say you shouldn’t worry, though you certainly shouldn’t. He doesn’t say worry is bad for your health, though our modern influx of stress-related illnesses would indicate that it is. He doesn’t say if you worry you won’t be happy. He simply says do not worry. It’s not a suggestion or a nice idea. It’s a command, an instruction.
Worry and fear reveals a part of ourselves that we don’t fully trust God with. We don’t fully trust Him with our future, or we don’t trust him to reveal to us what He wants he us to do. We don’t fully trust that he will provide for us physically and emotionally in the difficult seasons of life. But Jesus tells us not to worry, not to be afraid. The ability to take our fears, bring them to God in prayer and then let go, surrender them to Him, is grounded in faith. We have faith that God can better care for the things close to our hearts than we can.
But what happens when we don’t have perfect faith, when we do fear, as we inevitably will? Jesus doesn’t shame us. When we do worry, when we are afraid, he does not respond with anger or condemnation. He does not condemn us, and because of his forgiveness and the freedom he has given us, no one else has the right to condemn us either (Romans 8:1).
Like a parent who simply leaves a nightlight without saying a word, Jesus quietly, lovingly provides for each of us according to our individual needs to help us give our fears back to him. His presence, his peace, his Spirit and his Word give us the faith we need to release our fears to him and step forward not is worry or fear but in faith.