Waking up to Fear
“I guess I have always been afraid,” I heard myself say to a friend over lunch a few days ago. When I was a little girl there were many times I would have to take something outside to the trashcan. This may not seem like a big deal, but our big industrial-sized trashcan sat on the opposite side of the garage from the inside door. The inside door leading to the garage was as far from the trashcan as you could get. I can remember dreading the experience of taking the trash out. I would hesitantly peek out the window of the inside door leading to the garage. Then I would slowly crack the door, reaching my hand through the crack to push the button in order to open the garage. Then, as quickly as I could, I would sprint to the garbage can, dump the trash, and sprint back inside as fast as I could, my heart pounding in my chest. What was I afraid of? I don’t know. I was afraid someone would grab me and kidnap me. I was afraid someone would attack me and hurt me and I would have to go to the hospital. Hospitals terrify me. I was afraid of the dark (to this day, actually). When I was in college and lived overseas, I would plan my entire day and evening around not having to walk home by myself or stay at home by myself. I was afraid someone would break in. I was afraid a fire would start and I would be all alone.
I can laugh about some of these fears now. But fear isn’t really all that funny. Especially when life always seems to give us a reason to fear.
A couple weeks ago I was walking home from the park with my kids. My three-year-old son was a couple of yards ahead of me, and I was watching him ride his bike on the sidewalk that led to our house. As he rode ahead of me I noticed a car pulling out of the driveway, headed directly toward the path he was about to cross. I realized immediately that the person driving the car didn’t see my son, and I simultaneously knew that my son wasn’t going to stop and didn’t see the car backing up directly towards him. I began screaming at the top of my lungs. My baby was wrapped to my chest and she bounced up and down, knocking her head against my chin as I sprinted to reach my son, praying the person driving the car would hear me (or notice the crazy lady running toward them). The person heard me and screeched to a halt inches from my son. Shaking, crying, and screaming with fits of relief, rage, and terror I clung to my son. “Don’t you see! This is why we wait for mommy!” I screamed at him violently. I didn’t even make eye contact with the people backing out the car. I couldn’t. I was afraid of what I would do (and afraid that they would know that I lived a few doors down). Afraid of what I would say. And my body went numb as icy cold fear enveloped me head to toe.
It’s like I’ve woken up to my own fear lately. I guess I’ve always been afraid, but parenting has exposed fear in me like a spotlight catching a mouse in the corner of a room. Paralyzed and trapped, I can’t run from it like I did when I could sprint from the inside door to the garbage can and make it back inside quickly. I can no longer plan or control my day or my schedule around preventing fear from dominating. I am continually faced with my worst nightmare coming true. And I find myself forced to acknowledge that fear drives me.
And into this world of fear, God speaks.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)
Paul writes lovingly to the church at Philippi who are facing fears and anxieties from persecutions and threats. Paul himself is under arrest and is unsure if his arrest will end in execution or if he will be freed. Paul and the Christians at Philippi had firsthand, daily experiences with fear and anxiety.
Anxiety, in this context, could be defined as fear and genuine concern over the future.
Will we be killed?
Will our children be killed, beaten, burned, or jailed?
Will we be attacked?
Will we be ostracized, losing jobs and friendships and social status?
It is important to note, for those of us who struggle with fear, that Paul’s tone is gentle as he commands the Christians to pray, presenting their requests to God in the face of their worst nightmares coming true. Paul invites the Christians to do as he does: pray.
I can just see Paul under house arrest, not knowing whether the next footsteps he hears outside will be the ones delivering perilous news. He has to sit with this fear every moment of every day. And I can just see him inviting God into his reality. “Be grateful and lay it all out before God as if God will be enough for you,” he says.
So this is what I am doing these days, and I’d like to invite you to join me.
When fear and anxiety come, which is often, I breathe God in. Seriously, breathe. I am trying to take a deep breath in and let the breath reverberate into my nose, pass down into my heart, invade my soul, and encapsulate my entire body. I imagine my mind, heart, soul, and body all being united by my breath. As I breathe, I notice God’s presence in my breath. On my inhale, I breathe in God’s peace. On my exhale, I breathe out my requests. 
Inhale … I receive your peace.
Exhale … protect my babies.
Inhale … I receive your peace.
Exhale … keep my most treasured ones safe.
And as I breathe, I remind myself to be grateful for a God of peace. Join me in breathing today.
 I have been led to this practice by spiritual director Rhesa Higgins of Eleven:28 Ministries. For more information, visit eleven28ministries.org.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the First Colony Church of Christ.