I stepped near the bridge with the baby in my arms; my little niece was cradled against my shoulder, and sunlight dappled over us from the large shade trees. I watched as the baby’s older siblings played at the edge of the water. At first I was nervous, afraid that a careless misstep would land the three and four-year-olds in the murky creek. But upon closer inspection and with reassurance from the children’s mother, I was set at ease. She told me that the water was really shallow, and there wasn’t cause for worry as to the safety of the little ones.
I heard the four-year-old call out then: “Mama, I want to walk over there.”
“You want to go across the water?” my sister asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “But I’m scared.”
“You don’t need to be scared,” my sister assured her.
“There’s something in the water; it feels funny,” my niece protested after she dipped her toes into the creek.
“It’s probably moss or something,” said her mother. “Or it could have been a rock. But nothing is going to hurt you; I promise.”
“Are you sure?” the little girl asked.
“I’m sure,” came the words of affirmation without any hesitation.
“But what if I fall?”
“The water isn’t very deep, and you’ll be okay. But if you do fall, we have dry clothes in the car and you can change right away. The water might be cold, but other than that, it will be fine. Step into the water; I’ll be right here.”
“You’re sure?” my niece said again.
Once more, my sister assured the little girl that it would be okay, and that’s when my niece started to walk across the creek. She stepped carefully, but if I could see clearly, I think I would have caught her eyes glued to her mother’s for reassurance. The only reason she walked across the water was because her mother said that it would be okay. She trusted her mother’s judgment and words of assurance. It was an obvious demonstration of faith lived out in real life.
Oh, to have the faith of a child! That’s what I was thinking when I watched my niece navigate across the creek. I wasn’t sure I would have had the courage to do the same. Perhaps my visual impairment gives me some grace here, for it probably wouldn’t be the best idea for a blind girl to navigate across a gurgling creek without seeing the obstacles in the way. My niece had the advantage of vision and the added words of encouragement from her mother. Perhaps the combination of the two was her motivation to move forward.
But either way, that day in the park got me to thinking about the relationship between fear and faith. Some might say these two “f” words are the complete opposite of one another, and I think I agree. How many times do the Scriptures tell us not to be afraid or to have no fear? Countless! I take some comfort in this fact because it tells me that I’m not the only one to experience fear in my life. I think of Mary when the angel appeared to tell her of the coming Messiah, the son who would be born from her virgin womb. I think of the women at the tomb at yet another angelic appearance when Christ was raised from the dead. At each event, the angel says the words: “Do not be afraid.”
But what about those times when assurance didn’t come so readily from an angelic source? Don’t you think Abraham experienced great fear when God told him to sacrifice the only son he loved so dearly? Don’t you think Esther trembled when she went before the king to plead for the lives of her people? David feared for his life when Saul pursued him. Why do you think so many of the psalms speak of fear and despair? David composed many of those psalms even as he battled through the testing of his faith. And don’t you think Daniel experienced some semblance of terror when faced with the lion’s den? Yes, God protected him, but don’t you think his heart skipped a beat when he realized the fate that awaited him?
The truth is, I am not the first to fear, and I will not the last to experience this reality. But what about faith? What does it mean to trust in God when fear comes knocking?
This is what I’ve been processing lately, and I consider it no coincidence that our pastor is currently walking us through the book of James right now during Sunday morning worship. James’s words are direct and to-the-point, instructing the reader in matters of faith. I have done my best to drink in every word as it relates to my current reality. What does it mean to truly live it out? What does faith look like in the midst of trials and temptations? How do we set aside judgment and show mercy?
I am learning and growing, but my journey through fear versus faith has been ongoing, especially in my adulthood. I am certain it will be an ongoing, lifelong process for me. I admit that I face the realities of a situation and move to the worst case scenario before I respond in prayer or with a positive perspective. Fear quite often grips hold of me before I make the decision to respond in faith. Sometimes I wonder why it’s so difficult for me. I know God is in control. I know He has my future in His hands. I know I can trust Him. He’s proven Himself faithful time and time again.
Fear is not from God; fear is born of the enemy, a means to pull me away from the life-giving Word of the Lord. Oh, how easy it is to give into despair when so much can go wrong in this broken, empty, and sinful world. This world is not our home, but yet we can so quickly focus on the temporary things that divert our attention from our Creator. Those temporary things that draw us into fear can appear different for each one of us. Some fear financial struggle; some fear for the future of their children or grandchildren; some fear bad news from the doctor; some fear tornadoes, hurricanes, fire, or other natural disasters; some fear the decisions made by government officials or the future of our country; some just fear tomorrow. We can’t control any of the above, but somehow the fear turns into worry and we think we can devise a way out of the crisis if we give that fear a foothold.
I’m definitely guilty of this and I know I’m not the only one. I’m not calling anyone out here; I’m simply admitting that fear is a very real issue and it needs to be conquered. I wish I had a quick-fix, a formula that we could employ right now to send fear packing. But I don’t have any ready answer, only to say that prayer is the best response to raging fear.
Just like my niece, calling out to her mother for reassurance, why don’t we commit to calling on God in our time of need? What if, after we bring our fear before Him, we wait to hear the sound of His voice? Might we hear, “Don’t be afraid?” Perhaps He might speak audibly, and I know He does speak out loud because I’ve heard His still, small voice. But more often, I think we will experience a semblance of peace, a calm reassurance that He is with us. He might calm the storm and the tidal wave will recede, or maybe He will call you across the water even as it rages. But either way, He will be with you, even when things get scary.
I am going to conclude this post with a practice video that I recorded for my church worship team. It is my take on the Hillsong UNITED anthem “Oceans (Where Feet may Fail).” I recorded it in the dark one night after a very bad day. I was tired, overwhelmed, and yes, fearful. As I played and sang in the dark, I imagined the rolling sea, flowing over and around me. I imagined the Lord’s protection as He kept my head above the waves and delivered me safely home. He held me close as the waters deepened and my faith was strengthened as I moved further from shore. My fears vanished in His steadfast love. I was okay.