When Fear Comes to Visit in the Middle of the Night
I gave myself a writing retreat for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I escaped to a little cabin a short walk down a dirt road from the Sylamore Creek. When I arrived before noon, the temperature gauge out on the porch read 72 degrees. The weatherman had promised the warm weather would not last and it didn’t.
The girl I talked to on the phone about renting the cabin told me it was a safe place to stay when I asked about the location. “We all keep our doors unlocked around here,” she assured me without missing a beat. I remembered those days in the distant past. Good for her I thought, but I’d probably lock up anyway.
I turned out the lights before ten and crawled into the bed pushed into a corner next to a wood burning stove. The light on the coffee pot on the kitchen counter blinked green. Otherwise, the room was dark. I hoped I could find my way to the other room if I had to go in the night. Maybe I wouldn’t?
I talked to the Lord for a minute or two and drifted off only to wake a few hours later. The wind had picked up and the giant white oak outside the door, its trunk encircled by the deck, dropped bits and pieces of itself onto the roof.
The darkness amplified every sound. I couldn’t ignore the taps and groans the night was offering me. When we experience new places we listen to rhythms of life that aren't our own. The noises we hear aren’t “white” because we aren’t familiar with them.
At the top of the stairs, a hinged gate completed the rail around the deck. It was built to keep children and dogs secured inside the covered outdoor space—and to keep other critters out. I had failed to place the hook in the eye to secure it. I hadn’t noticed until the wind brought the gate to life.
There’s a part of our brains that serves us by alerting us to potential danger. My brain heard the creaking gate before I did. It made me consider possibilities. Was the gate being moved by someone who was making their way to the door? Was I no longer alone?
I strained to remember whether I’d latched the gate or not. I knew my arms were full when I had last come up the stairs. I assumed I hadn’t, but I wasn't sure.
The gate creaked a few more times before I called out the fear. No middle-of-the-night intruder was going to continue to move the gate again and again. Besides, if they were planning on “getting” me, they were sure were taking their sweet time.
I flipped on the porch light. The cedars across the way swayed back and forth. I unlocked the door, stuck my head out to see the gate. It was dancing in the wind with the trees. I was safe.
Many people deal with fear as a way of life. Fear is a natural part of how God made us. It was meant to serve us. Our brains have different areas that function in different ways. One part reacts to what we don’t understand so it can move us to consider if we need to protect ourselves from a threat. Other parts help us consider when we aren’t really in danger, when we need to be brave and face our fears, when we need to turn on the light.
I woke as the sun splashed the world with the color red, but it only lasted a minute or two before clouds turned the day to grey. Thunder rolled over the mountains and shook the valley from its sleep.
I used to be afraid of storms but I’ve lived through so many now that I’ve learned they mostly just come and go. That being said, if storms didn't have the potential for harm they would only be a source of wonder. The potential for harm is real.
Fear outside of our fight or flight response is the enemy’s weapon. He knows that when we succumb to fear it has the potential to paralyze us. When fear overtakes our thought processes, we won’t get up and turn on the light. We forget thunder is evidence that lightning has already struck.
The winds have changed. There are storms on the horizon. There are things we must face that seem much bigger than we are—things out of our control. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matt 5:45) What is common to man is common.
Love. He holds us in the night watches. He is the Anchor in the storm. We need the Light.
"Don’t be afraid, for I am with you!
Don’t be frightened, for I am your God!
I strengthen you –
yes, I help you –
yes, I uphold you with my saving right hand!
Look, all who were angry at you will be ashamed and humiliated; your adversaries will be reduced to nothing and perish.
When you will look for your opponents, you will not find them;
your enemies will be reduced to absolutely nothing.
For I am the Lord your God,
the one who takes hold of your right hand,
who says to you, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am helping you.’"
(Is. 41:10-13 NLT)
Fear never has to have the final word. The Lord has promised to help us. Jesus came to be with us. He has already faced our greatest fear—the fear of death. Now that he has defeated death and conquered the grave, we can place our confidence in Him, rest in the assurance of his care for us--- no matter the storm on the horizon.
Will we have moments when our fight or flight response kicks in? I hope so. It is a gift from God meant to serve us. The better question is what will we remember when fear threatens to keep us from resting in God’s care? Will we remember the God who made us is with us? Do we believe His promise to never leave or forsake us? Will we trust the One who did what we could not do for ourselves? Will we let our experiences of his faithfulness carry us when storms threaten to undo us?
If I can come alongside and pray for you as you face your fears, let me know. Our best offense against paralyzing fear is admitting we are fighting it.