*The above picture is meant to symbolize the way that fear can overcome you just like a big, nasty storm cloud. It is not meant to highlight Matt's balding head, though it does do that quite nicely.*
I remember when I was about four years old and watching this little vignette on Sesame Street: these two little cartoon characters were talking about fear and one little character was asking the other what he was afraid of. He asked about monsters, the dark, scary thunderstorms, etc., and the other guy just kept saying, "Um, no." Then the first guy says, "Well, what ARE you afraid of?" and all of a sudden on the screen came the word FEAR in big cartoon letters, and the second guy shrieks, "FEAR!" and runs away. For Sesame Street, this was kind of an odd philosophical way to point out that most of us, including little kids, are actually not afraid of what we think we're afraid of - it's the act of being afraid itself that is actually scary. And clearly it made an impression on my four-year-old mind, and even then I remember thinking, "Huh...he's afraid of fear itself? Interesting." (or some four-year-old equivalent thereof)
Fear has been an enormous struggle for me. I think it has been all my life, and just festered unchecked in very subtle ways before it really rattled me. Fear, like any other sin (and yes, it's taken a while for me to recognize it for what it is: sin), is very subtle. And hey, doesn't everyone fear something, even just a little bit? And aren't most women prone to worry anyway? Aren't MOST people at least mildly concerned about something having to do with their health, finances, relationships...? Isn't fear really just an inherent characteristic of us all?
Shortly after Matt and I got married my relationship with fear started to rear its ugly head. I had always been able to keep it in check (whether I realized it or not), but at this point I was starting to have panic attacks. If you've never had a panic attack, you can never fully understand that what seems so irrational and ridiculous to you is very real and horrifying to the one who is panicking. They always happened at night, and I would be throttled out of a deep sleep with this consuming feeling that I was absolutely going to die right then and there. My heart was racing, my breathing was shallow, I was sweating, my fingers were tingling, and poor Matt would practically need to peel me off the ceiling. My heart would skip all over the place (I've always been prone to palpitations for some reason), which would only make matters worse. Initially, I wasn't recognizing these as panic attacks; I thought something was seriously wrong with my heart. Then I became obsessed with my heart. Physical concerns are only compounded when you're anywhere near the healthcare field - I know way too much and can rationalize any physical fear that I have.
When we moved back to Michigan I discussed my concerns with my doctor, and she thought it would be wise to at least find out if there IS a physical issue to at least put my mind at ease. I wore a heart monitor for a month - I had three leads stuck to my chest and they were attached to a little pager-like device, and when I felt myself having a palpitation, I would hit a button on the pager and it would record what was going on. Turns out, it wasn't all in my head and I did have some arrhythmias that were potentially concerning. Off I went for a battery of cardiac tests, including an ultrasound and a stress test. My doctor prescribed a beta-blocker for me to take, which I never have. I draw the line there. I knew that my biggest problem was not my physical heart.
My heart still flutters and skips and jumps from time to time, but I just accept it at this point. It might become more of a problem as I age, but what I can I do about it right now? But what really needed to be addressed was my HEART-heart...the one where Christ is supposed to reside. I cannot serve two masters, and unfortunately I am far more willing to submit to fear than to hand it over to the One who abolished it. By submitting to my fear, I am basically saying to God, "You can't handle this and I need to take control of it - I need to ruminate on it, lose sleep over it, think of whatever I can to fix this problem, because clearly You're not." I demonstrate my lack of trust when I fear. My days were written well before I was even made - who on earth am I to think that God didn't know what He was doing when He made me? And how can I grasp the abundant life that He promised if I am so willing to submit to my fleshly desire to worry?
This is still a struggle I deal with daily. It usually centers around my health (which is, um, FINE). I can absolutely convince myself that I have any form of cancer. Or heart disease. Or whatever. And you know what? So what if I do, anyway? Is God any less sovereign? Is He sitting on the edge of His throne waiting with bated breath to find out what tomorrow will bring? Does my frailty bring Him any less glory? And were my days not planned well before I was even formed? Does He not promise to care for me and provide for my needs? Furthermore, He never promised me perfect health - in fact, He promised that in this life I WILL have troubles! This is NOT my best life - my best life awaits me in eternity.
My struggle with fear has actually been a good thing in my life once I was able to see it for what it is: something that will continue to bring me to my knees, searching God's Word for truths about my life, my body, and my heart. Our pastor at Tucson Sovereign Grace pointed out the truth of Romans 8:28 (all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose) - if fear is the one thing that continues to drive me to my knees in prayer and draw me closer to God, then it actually is a good thing. And man, was he right.
Fear sucks. But it doesn't have to control me. I haven't had a panic attack in well over a year now but that's not to say it won't ever happen again, or that I don't still experience things that begin to trigger one. I've been learning to stop listening to myself and start talking to myself and basically preaching God's truths to myself over and over again until the fear subsides. It was always be my biggest struggle. But I'm glad for it, and I've found that the more I talk about it, the more people come out of the woodwork and admit they deal with it too. And that's really what it's all about: us humbling ourselves and admitting our weaknesses and ministering to each other.