It is way too easy in life, to look back and see all the ways we could have done things differently. But in the middle of a crisis, the flurry of emotion and exhaustion often mixes together into a massive cloud of confusion. Our ability to see things clearly seems to evaporate and we run to hide behind something or someone or even within ourselves. But hiding is never the answer; neither is fear.
Tracy and I sat outside the coffee shop talking. The weather was strange for late May, somewhat cool and intermittently misting. Some people may have thought us odd for sitting outside at the time. A national pandemic, however, makes people do somewhat crazy things. At one point, the conversation was revolving around the feeling that we could have handled some situations better in the past. Everyone knows and attests to the saying, “No one’s perfect,” yet we all expect ourselves to be. Once again, a type of craziness in which we all seem to take part.
For me, I encountered that feeling a few years ago. Dental work threw me into a major TMJ crisis without being able to talk or eat much at all for months and months. Looking back, I wish I could have handled things better. At the time, I was just trying to hang on and wasn’t doing a great job of even that.
Tracy’s encounter with “I wish I could have handled things better,” was a more current situation. It involved the difficult task of her telling others that she needed help and ultimately allowing those people to help her. We all want to be on the giving side, but nobody wants to be on the receiving side. Once again, more craziness but we all do it. It must stem from pride or maybe even fear of how people view us. Fear is a powerful enemy. Tracy knew this from experience. Twelve years ago, when we met, I watched Tracy win her first major round with fear.
I should first say, Tracy is one of the strongest people I know. I have never seen her back away from anything difficult. She is one of those people who walks in the room and appears to have everything together. Calm, collected, forthcoming, and genuine. This is someone who you would never imagine had to work to overcome fear. Perhaps that highlights the point I want to make. We all have to work to overcome fear. Some of us just have to work a little harder.
A little over 12 years ago, Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer. When we first met, my friend had just completed chemo and was beginning radiation. Rarely did she miss our once-a-week study group. Despite having two small children, just finishing chemo, and in the midst of radiation, every week Tracy appeared on time and beautifully put together. She’d arrive with her lesson completed, a wig on, and a smile on her face. This happened week after week after week. That is, until out of the blue one Thursday Tracy arrived – on time, lesson done, but no wig. Her smile was still present and in fact, may have been a little bigger.
Practically everyone there immediately responded with the type of responses girls do. Things like, “I love your hair!”
“Your hair is so cute!”
“You look adorable!”
Things like those. And they were true. Tracy’s hair was her own, super short but hers.
Later that day, several of us ate lunch together. It was a “share your personal stuff” kind of lunch. Conversations with friends about what’s going on behind the scenes and how you really feel. It was then Tracy shared some of the things that had prompted the removal of the wig. I remember her talking about fear. Fear that the cancer might come back. Fear that she wouldn’t be there for her kids or her husband. Living with the constant fear of having to go through it all again. She didn’t want to stay where she was, but at the same time, afraid to move forward. Stuck in some limbo land, wondering if there was a future.
Tracy said she had made the decision to stop being afraid on Easter. She wasn’t going to fear the future anymore. Instead, she was going to walk straight forward into it. She felt like she had been hiding inside the wig, afraid to come out. That day, the hiding was over. The wig came off and fear went down. This isn’t to say wearing a wig is wrong. It’s not about the wig, it’s about hiding. The thing you’re hiding behind? That’s what needs to go. Fear can be defeated, it just takes courage.
Fear can paralyze us. It grows in the darkness. Permeates our thoughts. And it becomes more ominous the more we focus on what it is we fear. Fear can consume people. Perhaps that is why Jesus said over and over, “Do not fear.” He talked about it with groups, said it to individuals directly, and even covered the topic in parables. Jesus knew we would have to face things which would cause us to fear, but still he said, “Don’t be afraid.”
In his message on fear, Andy Stanley put it this way, “You don’t have to be afraid, even when there’s something to be afraid of.” It sounds crazy, but in this case it isn’t. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Life puts us in some pretty scary situations and being consumed by fear will only make matters worse. Whether it’s COVID19, unemployment, losing someone you love or something you have, life can be brutally scary. Jesus acknowledged we’d be in fear-provoking situations, but he also said we could still choose not to fear. And the reason He gave? “Because I am with you.”
I think it is a little like a child walking through the woods late at night. It’s dark, it’s alarming, and it’s potentially dangerous. But in the presence of a parent, the child can take hold of their hand, and make the journey without being afraid. They believe the parent can handle whatever they encounter and will get them safely through the scary woods to the other side. Jesus holds out his hand to us and makes the same offer.
The account of the disciples in the boat is always a favorite of mine. Twelve men, one small boat, middle of the night, wind buffeting, storm raging, hours of rowing – sounds eerily similar in ways to some of our own trials. When out of the darkness, they see Jesus on the water. “They were terrified,” is how the NIV reads. Jesus’ response? “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
I’m always encouraged that his response wasn’t to belittle the men and tell them to muster up some courage. Instead He says, “Take courage.” One of the definitions in Merriam-Webster for the word ‘take’ is “to transfer into one’s own keeping.” Jesus has courage and extends the offer to transfer some. We just need to take it from him. Whatever it is you are afraid of, you don’t have to be afraid any more.
So take courage. Tracy has. Even though round one in the battle of fear ended several years ago, Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer again nine months ago. This time it is a different type of breast cancer. After the biopsy, the pathology results came back triple negative, requiring a much more difficult treatment course.
And there we sat, full circle in many ways. Just as when I first met her, Tracy was in the middle of radiation following her chemo. And there we were having lunch, the kind where you “share your personal stuff.” But this time fear didn’t get invited. I saw no fear in Tracy, although I’m certain the temptation remains. What I did see was the strong desire to never go back into hiding. The desire to live life well no matter what lies ahead. The hope is she will continually say yes to help, but always say no to fear. That, my friends, is courage. And I’m certain I know who it came from.
I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Ps 34:4 NLT
Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me; Your rod and staff – they comfort me. Ps 23:4 HCSB
So 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. Isaiah 41:10 NIV
For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgement. 2 Tim 1:7 HCSB
So I took courage because I was strengthen by Yahweh my God. Ezra 7:28 HCSB
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified…… But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” Matthew 14:26,27 NLT
For another great story of facing the future with courage, read “Messy In The Middle.”