Every October, it would take a little longer for my parents to take me to kindergarten. The extra minute or two delay began when our neighbors at the end of our street covered their small yard with every kind of Halloween decoration. Plastic gravestones lined the driveway. White ghosts swung from the oak tree. Fake cobwebs covered the bushes along with giant black spiders. My mother would go the opposite way out of our neighborhood to avoid the garish haunted display (and my resulting tears).
I’m not sure I was actually afraid of the skeleton perched with legs crossed on their front porch. Instead, even from a young age, I was more afraid of feeling afraid. I avoided the creepy costumes, scary movies, and dark décor because I didn’t want to lose control to my fearful emotions.
Unfortunately, I’ve not completely grown out of this fear of fear (though I can now drive past the skeletons in my neighbor’s yard with only a slight shudder). I clean out the pantry to avoid working on a daunting writing project on my heart. I scroll social media to ignore a hard afternoon with my children. I block out the news with a box of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate butter cups and an episode of The Great British Baking Show.
While I’ve succeeded in avoiding many fears in life (I’ve watched only one Steven King movie), my anxiety often prevents me from working through my fear. Due to my fear of failing, fear of being wrong, fear of letting others down, I often drive the opposite direction from opportunities to grow, to do good work, and to reach others. But if I never confront those fears, then I can also miss out on the joy that comes from walking through the fearful situation.
I’ve learned a lot about fear from the Psalms. If anyone had a reason to fear, it was David, who was constantly on the run from multiple enemies. In his psalms, David didn’t pretend that fears don’t exist, instead he wrote, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). He said when not if. Fears are going to assail us every day—from breaking news to medical diagnoses to personal disappointments.
When we don’t acknowledge the real fears and anxieties we experience (especially these past two years), we deny ourselves the opportunity to trust in God. It’s not a question of if we are afraid. But when we are afraid, what will we do? Will we avoid it, try to power through on our own, or turn to our Good Shepherd?
David knew the comfort that can come from such a shepherd, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Instead of taking a circuitous route out of the difficult situation (like my mom’s alternative course out of our neighborhood at Halloween), God promises to walk with us. He doesn’t remove us from the valley; he is with us through it. And through those dark days, we find goodness and mercy like we’ve never experienced before. In one of the great paradoxes of our faith, joy comes out of suffering—peace out of fear.
I remember when I found out that my husband grew up in one of those kind of Halloween families. With his mom and five siblings, he would string twine up and down their three-story yellow home to create a giant spider web—complete with a DIY spider made from a garbage bag stuffed with paper. He recounts with joy the homemade costumes, the trick-or-treating scores, and the haunted houses. The same scary Halloween season that brought me to tears brought delight to my husband—because it was an occasion to enjoy time with his family.
My husband and I have found a happy medium between my extreme avoidance of Halloween and my husband’s family’s enthusiasm with fake cobwebs. I now dress up to trick or treat with my children (this year we’ve planned Frozen-themed family costumes), yet only carved and painted pumpkins will adorn our front porch.
In addition to my new perspective on Halloween, I’ve also found a peace in the tension between fear and trust. Instead of avoiding my fears, I can entrust them to my Father. Like I comfort my daughter in the middle of the night after a bad dream, my Father comforts me through my worst fears for myself and my family. By taking our fears to the Lord, I can say confidently with David, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
Trust doesn’t mean the fears don’t exist, but it does mean we don’t walk through them alone.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Unmaking Fears”.