“Let’s jump Humphrey Falls,” someone had suggested, and in all my twenty-one-year-old wisdom, I couldn’t find a reason why I shouldn’t. I was determined to go through with it, but standing at the edge of its thirty-foot plummet, I hesitated. The scene before me was not what I had imagined. The waterfall’s roar pounded in my ears and I hadn’t expected the jagged rocks that outlined the bottom of the canyon. Somehow I had to aim my leap to miss those teeth and land in the watery throat at the bottom.
Adrenaline flooded my body, but rather than hold me back, it flung me over the edge.
Such were the days of my fearless youth. Fear meant little to me and never prevented me from doing what I wanted to do. It didn’t stop me from racing my little red stick-shift down mountain roads going far too fast for my own good. It didn’t hinder me from moving to a third world country in my early twenties and starting a new life on my own. It definitely didn’t hold me back from going wild pig hunting in the jungle or swimming in rivers where alligators hunted.
Even if it meant provoking the school bully—if I thought it was right and just—I spoke up. Even when it meant pointing out hypocrisy in my local church, I stood up. I didn’t fear what others thought of me or worry about the consequences. I was just as passionate in my pursuit of Jesus as I was in pursuing adventure.
I desired to live and to live fully. My only fear was that I would become complacent in life and accept a dull and lifeless existence. But now when I look back on those days, I wonder: was I really fearless? Or had the cheap shine of naivete not yet worn off?
It’s easy to be brave when you have nothing to lose and you do not yet understand the cost of courage. But when I met my husband, had children, and began building a life, it became harder to throw myself to the wind.
Death of Fearless
It was not a singular catastrophic event which propelled fear into my life, but rather a slow surrender to the silent invader. Adventure came with risks I was no longer able to pay and stepping up for the truth led to conflict and a loss of friendship I couldn’t afford. I was beginning to see the price of courage and no longer liked the odds. Like the slow, steady drip of leaking water, my confidence eroded, and the fear made a home in my heart.
When conflict in the church arose, I was less inclined to get involved. When friendships failed, I pulled away. The unknown world began to frighten me with its stories of suffering and hardship, so home became my haven, books became my new friends, and adventure became a distant memory.
Without realizing it, fear had hijacked my life and worst of all, I was okay with it. And looking in the mirror only confirmed that the woman staring back at me bore no resemblance to the girl who wanted to conquer life.
It’s no longer a question of “what do I fear” but more of “what do I not fear?”
Learning to drive in snowy conditions after years in the tropics has proven to be an unexpected challenge. If I pick up my keys and head out the door to pick up my children from school and it’s snowing again, I have to fight panic and the desire to seclude myself during the long, northern, winter months.
The dream of writing has long beckoned me, but I tend to resist its pull knowing it will ask me to reveal more of myself than I am willing to give. The desire to pour out what is within me battles with the fear of being seen.
I’m uncomfortable in group settings even among friends. It has been many years since I lived in a community of friendship, preferring instead the safety of one-on-one relationships. Sometimes I find myself still pulling out the quills from past hurts and rejection and I battle the desire to build a wall of protection around my scarred heart.
I fear being alone. I fear being with people. I fear being seen. I fear being ignored. I fear I’m missing out. I fear stepping out. My fears are irrational and yet, I do not question their validity. And worse of all, I’ve allowed them to define me.
Without knowing the exact when, where, or how, fear hijacked my life. And now I’m left wondering how to escape its clutches.
The Right Way to Fear
I know my Bible well enough to know fear doesn’t come from God but is a byproduct of a fallen world. When sin entered this world, Adam realized too late the difference between the fear of God and being afraid of God. The fear of God brings life, but sin causes us to shrink back from his holiness and hide ourselves from his all-knowing gaze. It was Adam who first gave voice to fear in Genesis 3:10 when he says, “I was afraid, and I hid myself.”
In my fear, I’ve begun to realize that I’ve hidden myself from living, hidden myself from loving, and ultimately hidden myself from God.
As the years have passed, I’ve grown comfortable keeping God at a safe distance. What if he asked of me more than I could give? What if his love proved as fragile as those around me? What if he couldn’t be trusted?
But now I am beginning to wonder if my fears of snow or writing or friends are connected to my wrongful fear of God. How can I walk courageously when I don’t trust in his love for me? How can I overcome my fears when I doubt his goodness? In the end, I realize by hiding myself from God, I’ve exposed myself to the world and all its terrors. It is only in his presence that fear flees. It seems fearing God holds the keys to understanding the fears that control me.
Looking back at my younger self, I don’t believe I was fearless; I was simply naive and lacked understanding. I would never want to return to being the young girl who lived so foolishly at times, but I love that she lived. Her courage looks different than mine. While hers was washed in innocence, mine is scarred with understanding. Now the challenge is to find courage when my eyes have seen more than they should have, my ears have heard more than they wanted, and my heart has been broken a time or two. Maybe true courage is showing up again . . . and again . . . and again . . . knowing the cost and still willing to pay.
Cover image by Sammie Vasquez.