I was not afraid. I whispered it to myself in the darkness. Seven was too old for nightmares, too old to be afraid of the dark, too old to cry for my parents. So I stayed still under my sheets, afraid to move, afraid to call out. Afraid, afraid, afraid. My cheeks were wet when the lights finally clicked on, and I ducked my head into my pillow to hide my tears from my dad, even though I knew they had brought him here. Once again, nightmares had disturbed my sleep, and once again, I had disturbed his.
The bed creaked when he sat, and I peeked one eye over the covers, fears banished in his presence. I expected a reprimand, but I got a gift instead: a sword. Not a real sword, of course. It was made from aluminum foil, too blunt and too flimsy to frighten off anything but a nightmare. But in his hands, it seemed a mighty blade indeed.
That gift taught me that fears could be faced, courage could be chosen, and my dad would see me armed for the battle even though he would never leave me to face it alone. A shout would bring him running.
Twenty years later, I still find some fears difficult to vanquish. This spring that fight has been especially challenging. While the green that sprouts outside my window and the sun that lingers before setting both bring me joy, an undercurrent of anxiety has been growing inside me with each passing day.
It took me a while to identify the cause: my birthday. Most people take account of their lives in December, acknowledging the goals accomplished or neglected and setting new resolutions to strive toward. But I tend to hold my reckoning when my birth month rolls around. With a new year drawing nearer, I consider the one that is passing, and like a heavy pack crushing a weary traveler, all the things I have not yet done, all the milestones I have not yet passed, all the places I thought I would already be, begin to weigh down my shoulders.
I think of dreams unfulfilled, of prayers not yet answered, of goals I feel no closer to reaching, and my heart seems to shrivel inside me. Celebrating another year feels like a farce, when I fear how quickly the last has slipped through my fingers. When too often I see the pages turning on my calendar as markers of my own failure instead of as markers of God’s grace.
It is clear to me as I write, and no doubt to you as you read, that I desperately need a perspective shift. This is a load I am not meant to carry, so it is little wonder that my spine aches with it. “You just need to trust in the Lord,” you say, and it is true. “You do not know what He is doing in the waiting,” you say, and it is true. “You were not made for fear,” you say, and it is true.
Still, I can know the truth of such statements in my soul … and yet the feeling of fear remains.
It is the ghost behind my smile as joyous moments fill my social media feed and I try to be excited for my friends even as sorrow tugs at my heart. It is the echo behind my voice as I sing the truths I know but sometimes struggle to believe. It is the cloud behind my eyes, heavy with tears I do not want to shed but that slip out when I least expect them.
I am so weary of this fear. But I cannot escape it.
Or can I? Can I rebel against the anxiety that shivers inside me? Can I escape the sense that there is a timeline marching past and leaving me behind? Can I throw off the chains of what and where and who I think I ought to be? Can I be free to simply live in this moment where God has placed me?
Yes, whispers the Holy Spirit to my soul, for those set free by the Son are free indeed. (John 8:36, paraphrase)
Indeed. That word leaves little room for doubt.
Unlike the sword my dad made for me, the Sword of Truth our heavenly Father has given us is neither flimsy nor blunt. It is strong and sharp enough to pierce the innermost fastnesses of fear. It frees my inward-chained gaze and directs it upward and outward toward passages like the Psalms that remind me of God’s faithfulness, might, and love. Toward the histories that reveal God at work in stumbling (often bumbling) people like me, people who could also count their days in failures if their lives were not rooted in God’s unfailing grace.
I study their journeys and see them wandering in deserts, hiding in caves, crossing seas on dry land, and standing unshaken in furnaces of fire. I see them battling fear, confusion, sorrow, and doubt, and rebelling against such things, finding courage in consistency and strength in declaring the truth: though armed for the battle, they would never have to face it alone. I see those struggles usher them into a deeper, more intimate knowledge of God’s presence, and I realize my struggles can do the same for me.
Remembering the mercies of yesterday uplifts my downcast soul and teaches my heart to see God’s grace instead of my failures, until I can recognize the Gospel unfolding in through every aspect of my life and begin to abide in Him and with Him.
Only then will I be able to celebrate this birthday and the unknown year to come, knowing that the One who holds galaxies together by the power of His Word also holds the threads of my story, gathers my tears in His hands, and is crafting something more beautiful than I can yet imagine. Only then can I throw off fear and cling to hope.
And this will be my glorious rebellion, I decide, as I bask in the sprouting green, in the lingering sun, and in the scent of new growth, of life, of renewal after the slow death of the cold months. As I brush my horse and watch her thick, coarse, yellowed wintry coat sloughing off to reveal the soft, slick, white spring coat coming in beneath.
As I consider the dry wilderness years and hope, hope, hope that the One who causes springs to rise in the desert and brings dry bones to life will finally unveil the restoration He has been working beneath the cracked and broken surface all along.
But even if He does not unveil His masterwork yet, I can rest knowing that in His presence there is love enough to banish all my fears and to mark each day in grace.
The featured image is titled “Swords in Irish Stone” and was photographed on a street Dublin, Ireland.
It is (c) Lancia E. Smith and used with glad permission for The Cultivating Project.
Gillian Bronte Adams is a writer, wanderer, and wordsmith who is rarely found without a coffee in hand and rumored to pack books before clothes when she hits the road. Working in full-time youth ministry left her with a passion for journeying alongside teens as they follow after Christ. Combined with her lifelong love of story, that passion drew her to pursue the art of writing young adult fantasy novels, like The Songkeeper Chronicles, that ring with the echoes of eternity. Her favorite stories feature outcast characters traveling down broken roads, through epic battles, and onward toward adventure. At the end of a long day of typing, she can be found saddling her wild thing and riding off into the sunset, provided she has not already settled down a mug of coffee and a very long book.