Things That Go Bump

Your eyes shoot wide open. Goosebumps ripple across your body. The little hairs on the back of your neck stand alert and erect. Your hearing seems sharper, your vision more crisp. Inside, your heart beats a cadence of an army ready for retreat. Muscles tense and spasm. Breathing becomes difficult and thinking illogical.

Fear.  It’s a feeling most of us have felt. The anxiety, the panic, the worry…all of these symptoms we avoid like the plague, but the reality is when fear grips our heart, it is almost impossible to free ourselves.

When I was little, I was terrified of the dark. I remember having this recurring nightmare all through grade school and middle school of this little two-foot tall rat who walked on his hind legs. With laser red eyes and razor sharp teeth, he’d sneak into my dreams and rip me screaming from my bed so he could cut me up and eat me. My six year old brain was convinced that as soon as the lights went out, this rat would be waiting to drag me off. As long as there was light, I was safe. The rat couldn’t get into the light and nothing could hurt me.

It seems illogical now, but at the time it was terrifying. The fear was crippling and made bed time a disaster for me and my parents.

Of course fear of the dark isn’t an uncommon phobia. It’s similar to many lifelong fears like fear of heights, fear of enclosed spaces, or fear spiders. Spider fear—called arachnophobia—is said to be the most common fear in both kids and adults. And if you think about it, we can be completely oblivious to a spider in our house, but as soon as we see it, we are convinced the spider has used some ninja technique to penetrate our home and is on the hunt to hurt us. Again, it seems irrational, but when talking to my friend who trembles at the word spider, it’s how his brain processes reality.

The fear doesn’t make logical sense, but logic doesn’t matter when you feel the fear.

I think as we get older, we don’t become less fearful; the things we fear just change from darkness and spiders. We fear losing a job. We fear losing a relationship. We fear the future.

We fear losing control. Because when I think about it, if I’m not in control, that means someone else is…which means I’m not as necessary, because if I have no control, then there is nothing I can do for anyone else…I’m disposable without control…and that’s terrifying!

Of course, as I write this, I know it isn’t true. Yet it’s a thought that I’ve had and I’ve heard from so many people—not ever put quite that bluntly, but through actions, hopes and fears it all boils down to this: we are afraid we are not worthy of being loved.

Is that the big monster in the closet? That if our jobs went away or our friends left us or we lost control we wouldn’t be as loveable?  If you look at some societal patterns, it certainly seems to be the root of so much anxiety. Instead of leaving the lights on to keep the delusions at bay, we create the illusion of perfection. We convince ourselves that if we work hard enough, our jobs will be safe. We use virtual status updates to monitor people we care about, so they can never leave us. We constantly watch the news and tune into headlines so we aren’t surprised by anything new. We believe we are in control.

As I look back on those disturbing nights of panic, I now realize that the rat was all in my head. Turning on the light did nothing. Worrying about it only made the fear more and more real. The same thing is true of our more grown-up fears. Clinging to routines of perfection and control doesn’t make us any more loveable…but the fear of being unlovable is all in our heads.

This is the most fundamental truth of everything we know about God.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”(John 3:16) This is a God who loved us so much to bring Isreal out of slavery, raise David from shepherd to king, and spread his arms on a cross to break the barriers for mankind.

God doesn’t just love us…he so loves us. We are so loved. The beauty of this is that we have the power to turn off the fear. Just like we learn that monsters don’t appear when the light goes off, the bible tells us that God’s love—not perfection, not routine, not anything we can conjure up on our own but—God’s love is what actually makes all fear disappear. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

And the love keeps going and the fear keeps vanishing when we spread it around. God gives us the ability not only to silence our own fear but the fear of others by loving them. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

This is liberating because it means we don’t have to fall victim to the things that control us. We can give up illusions. We can take risks. We can go on adventures. We do things we never dreamed of, because we have a God that so loves us and a community of family and friends that show us that love.

“God is Love!” (1 John 4:8) And with this great news our symptoms of anxiety can fade. Our eyes can rest. Our bodies can relax. The little hairs on the back of our neck can go back to being unnoticed. Our hearing, our vision, and the beating of our hearts can slowly trickle back to normal levels. All spasms can cease. Breathing and thinking can resume as planned. We truly have nothing to fear!

Except spiders…those things are creepy!

Zach Herzog

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