Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fear and Faith

There are a few events from my life that can make me cry just to think about them. One was when I watched Abby say good bye to her life-long friend and next-door-neighbor, Mary, when Mary headed off to college. The two of them stood in our living room, arms around each other’s shoulders, and bawled. I'm tearing up just writing about it.

Another event was when Kate left for college. She loaded all her necessary belongings in her red Ford Taurus, sat down next to her pet fish, who was swimming laps in the cup holder, and drove away. I cried so hard I couldn't speak, even to tell her good bye.

Then there was something that happened just a few weeks ago. Eric (17) needed surgery to correct a problem with his skull. Yes, his skull. He needed the opening at the base of his skull enlarged to allow more room for his brain and relieve the pressure on his spinal column. The neurosurgeon would actually see Eric's brain during the procedure. The surgeon told us it wasn't brain surgery, knowing that a parent's mind could easily go there. Yes, I told myself, but it is next-to-the-brain surgery.

Hearing the words "neurosurgeon" and "spinal column" in the same sentence as Eric's name scared me. Scared me a lot.

I thought I was masking my anxiety pretty well, but then I heard Eric tell someone I was a basket case. I guess he saw through me. I don't think I've ever been so scared. I managed not to cry until Eric was being wheeled down the hall in the hospital bed toward surgery. Then I couldn't hold back the tears. And once they started, I didn't know if they'd ever stop.

I told myself all the things I knew to be true about the situation. Eric was strong, able to handle the procedure. The surgeon was skilled and experienced, having done this procedure many times. And beyond all those things, there was God. The God who loved Eric, loved our family, and was in perfect control of all things. Whatever the outcome, it was all in God's hands.

So why was I crying?

We'd learned about Eric's condition just a week before, but in that week I’d managed to build up a pretty high level of anxiety. I feared that the surgeon's knife would slip and Eric would suffer a debilitating injury.
That's all in God's hands, I repeated. Even if that happened, God would give us the grace to handle it. My mind couldn't convince my heart, though. I didn't understand why I could have faith in God and still be so scared. Can faith and fear coexist?

I emailed some friends during the week of Eric’s surgery, admitting to them that I was struggling with the idea of fear and faith. They offered some helpful perspective.

“I think letting go and having a good cry is appropriate. You are a loving mother expressing great concern for your son. So in my limited wisdom, which I think I am slowly acquiring with each gray hair, and each trial, you can have faith in God and still be scared, because you were also scared and yet still have faith in God.”  

"Remember, you don't need perfect faith. You just need faith in a perfect God."

“Fear is a normal reaction of the body to danger. Faith is the normal reaction of the body of Christ to God's ability to use everything in our lives for His glory and our good. The two go together.  We take our fear to the One who can do something with the source of our fear.”

Eric's surgery went perfectly. It took him a couple weeks to get his stomach and head back to normal. But he's fine. My fears were for naught.

I continued to struggle with the whole faith and fear thing. Why had I been so fearful? Doesn’t the Bible say, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)?

As I quoted that verse to myself it shed new light on my struggle. I was expecting my faith to be perfect. I figured that by this time in my life I should have “perfect” love and “perfect” faith. I expected I should have the kind of faith that left no room for doubt or fear. But guess what? Even at my “advanced” age, my faith is imperfect. I’m imperfect. Why was that such a news flash?

Faith is something that grows throughout our lives. I'd never faced anything quite like this, so my faith was untested in this area. And when it was tested, it came up short. I’m not perfect.

I thought back to the first time Doug faced unemployment. It was early in our marriage and the idea of Doug losing his job had me pretty upset. But I remembered God loved us, and if Doug lost his job it didn't mean God didn't love us. And, when Doug did lose his job, God took care of us. Then, 20 years later, he faced unemployment again and guess what? I wasn't nearly so concerned. I'd seen God prove Himself to me in times of unemployment so it made it easier to trust Him when unemployment came calling again.

I'd like to think that if I face something like this again--God forbid--I'd handle it with a little more courage. But it's okay if I don't. I'm not perfect. I get scared sometimes.

During my times of fear surrounding Eric’s surgery I found myself praying a familiar prayer from the New Testament: "I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). 

I smiled when I remembered that prayer had been uttered by a man asking Jesus to heal his son. And Jesus healed the man’s son, even though the man’s faith was imperfect.

Yes, Lord, heal my son, too. And help my unbelief.