Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fears and Trembling

To paraphrase the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, “I am a man of fearful mind and I live I amongst a people of fearful mind.” That is not all I am but I'll admit to many bouts with fear over my nearly fifty years.

The first thing I remember fearing was a well-house that was attached to the back porch of the Michigan farmhouse my family lived in during my 4-5th year (1961-62). My grandmother’s grandparents established the farm after they moved there from upstate New York. We came to live there upon my parent’s return from their elopement to California.

[That is another story.]

My mother believed that the well house was unsafe and that I was important to her. So she painted a profoundly scary picture in my mind of what would happen to me if I ever went in there. The old boards that covered the shaft would give way when I stepped on them and down I would plummet into the cold dark water. Though I became instantly curious, I never ventured inside. The farm has since been sold so I will never know whether I had good reason to be afraid or not.

The Christian and Hebrew scriptures direct us to “fear the Lord and keep His commandments.” They also counsel, “fear not, for I [the LORD] shall be with you.” I think this is one way of saying that we live in a world of “good” and “bad” fears and that how we choose to respond will become our life.

Dealing with fear is not all there is to life, but it is a start.

In sixth grade I feared making a speech. In junior high I ran scared from a couple of bullies. In high school I feared failing to make Varsity in wrestling. In college I feared being turned down for a date. It is what I do with fear that makes the difference. I went ahead and made the speech. I survived the bully. I managed to wrestle varsity as a senior. I married the girl I dared to ask out.

Fear has sought to keep me in small places and away from the adventure that makes life worth living. Fear has also kept me out of unnecessary danger and suffering. Example -- I credit the healthy fear I had of my mother when she discovered me staying up to watch TV and smoking a cigarette I had sneaked from her purse.

I believe that understanding this difference is important to arriving at a more mature faith. I also believe that there is a fate worse than falling into a well.

What have you learned from your fears?

Russ Jarvis

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