Something terrible happens in the mind of every little child when the lights go off at night. Evil creatures lurk behind every curtain, monsters crouch under the bed, villains lie in wait inside closets, and shadows flutter to reveal endless opportunities for fear to creep into the imagination.
Once that moment has come-- once the tree outside turns into a monster with long, spindly fingers, or the creaking noise in the hallway becomes a softly approaching ghost-- there is nothing that can be done to undo that transformation. Nothing, of course, except for someone to turn on the lights and reveal the phantoms for what they really are.
Fear is a funny thing. We can know something to be true-- absolutely true-- but once fear has snuck in, it is almost impossible to believe anything else, without the help of some outside force. I confess (and this is embarrassing) that every time Chris is late coming home from a bike ride-- even though I know he is fine-- I start imagining scenarios of phone calls from hospitals, funeral services, and life without him. Nothing-- no amount of reasoning or laughing at myself-- except seeing him walk through the door can erase my crazy thoughts & fears.
I have been dealing with my own fears-- my "monsters under the bed" for some time now. Despite a loving husband, friends & family, despite years of counseling & hours of Dr. Phil (just kidding-- I've never actually watched Dr. Phil... but maybe I should?), I just can't seem to convince myself that there's nothing lying in wait out there.
And here, dear friends, is what I am afraid of: I am afraid of failing, afraid of being alone; afraid that something will go horribly wrong, and I will discover that I am unworthy of love.
A big confession, I know-- but isn't that really what we're all afraid of in the end? Doesn't everyone live with the fear, to some extent, that they don't measure up, that they won't be accepted, that they will fail & be left alone with no one to love them? I'm sure that the healthy, well adjusted, mature adults among us aren't as plagued by that fear in the same way as a 12 year old at a school dance-- and maybe that's all maturity really is?-- but I am sure that at one time or another, we all wrestle with those fears.
Mine come in waves, and are often related to my job & fears of failure. I am in the unusual position of working with my husband and being a professional Christian-- so if I fail at work, I let down not only spiritually budding students & interns, but also my spouse and God. Sheesh! If only I could work at Starbucks and have my failures be limited to cappuccinos and lattes. But I digress.
Over the last several weeks, I could feel those fears mounting up, silently growing under the surface and breeding doubt & insecurities. I would see myself in other people's eyes-- God's, students', co-workers'-- and imagine that they saw failure in me. It wasn't an overwhelming sense of fear or shame, but rather a faint shadow that tainted my vision in a barely perceptible way.
And then one day, something changed. It was as though someone walked into the room and turned on the lights, revealing the monsters & demons for what they really were. I decided that I was tired of listening to lies, tired of living under that cloud. I decided to walk away, and stop believing them.
There have been moments of clarity in my life where Truth is so very True that it illuminates everything around it until it feels as though you could never doubt again. This was one of those moments. Suddenly, all the things I had been believing about myself felt so small and empty, and everything felt free & light, now that I was out from under the weight of all those phantoms.
Oh, the freedom to just be me-- to be able to live out my relationships & responsibilities in the open spaces of myself, without the constraints that my fears & insecurities unknowingly brought. It just felt right.
As I write this now, it has been almost 2 weeks since that moment, and I am sad to admit that the fears & the shadows are slowly creeping back-- as I knew they inevitably would.
I am reminded of my little nephew who cried & cried one night because of the ghosts in his room. When the lights were turned on, they revealed cobwebs blowing in the draft of the window, and once he knew the truth, he was able to go right to sleep, even with the lights turned off. If only all of our fears worked that way.
I know that my fears & insecurities are simply cobwebs & shadows-- I have seen them in the light, and I know that they have no substance. And yet, when it gets dark, they still can hold a certain power over me. Can any of us ever truly escape those dark fears? I think the most that we can do is fight off the shadows & wait in hope for the moment when Someone turns the lights on. Because, really, I think it takes that outside force to chase our fears away-- bringing the illumination & clarity that somehow allows us to push through our fears.
And so, I keep pushing, remembering that moment of Truth, when I just knew that, if nothing else, I am wholly accepted. In the end, that's all I need to know.