Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Challenging A Fear of the Dark

For most of us there have been struggles with a fear of the dark. It would be simple to say that such a fear is only that which takes place after sunset, when darkness has replaced the light of day. But there are many fears of darkness. As the sunset and the darkness of night began to set in, during my childhood, I felt a distinct fear of the dark. My parents used to ask what was wrong. Many were the nights when there were arguments over my going up to bed alone. As the younger sibling I had to go to bed earlier and that meant facing those fears without an ally for support.

On one occasion, that has never left my memory, I asked for someone to escort me up the stairs and down a long hallway to the bathroom. I was told I was now a big boy and had to learn to do it alone. So, off I went and made it alone to the washroom through the dark. You might ask about putting on a light. Well, it is important to know that this was during the 1950’s and our home’s light fixtures upstairs consisted of pull-chain lights that were much too high for me to reach. As I left the bathroom to return downstairs, I started to run toward what little bit of light I could see and ran directly into the corner of a doorway and put a terrible gash in my eyebrow and was quickly covered with blood. My parents heard my cries and came to see what had happened and took me directly to the doctor. I had to have 5 stitches to close the wound. That same night a long cord was run from the pull-chain light, down the stairwell and was in easy access for future use. But, that did not cure my fear of the dark.

I used to lie in bed at night and wonder what was in the closet or just outside the door. I imagined all the negative things that a child’s mind could conjure up and it was not until my Mom asked me to close my eyes and tell me what I saw, that I began in a small way to understand the true meaning of darkness, as far as my fear was concerned. Knowing that I was not afraid in the afternoon with my eyes closed, I  seemed to get a bit of a sense of comfort in hearing that there was nothing to fear when I was alone in the dark. But still for years there lingered a sense of some remnant of that childhood fear.

Have you ever asked yourself what it is that prompts your personal fears? Perhaps it is the unknown. It may in fact be the feeling of being alone, without support or love. Fear can come in many forms and be both relative and subjective to our condition. In other words it is sometimes, or even most times,  connected to what is taking place in our immediate state of affairs…. our situation in life at present. Have you noticed that during times of absolute joy, while surrounded by family and friends that you love and that have supported and shared with you, that you feel little fear. It is during those moments that we are least likely to feel that we are walking alone or feel deserted, being left to our own resources or strengths. It is during the times that tragedy hits, or when life events turn toward the unbelievably uncertain or perhaps even when temptation is at its worst, that we feel those twinges of fear. It is this fear that we most often feel we must face alone; rather lost in our inability to feel even the presence of God’s love surrounding, supporting and uplifting us.

I have memories of a story, some time ago, of a small child whose parents were in a terrible car accident. The car in which they were driving drove off the road, through a guardrail and over a cliff, landing on a rocky beach. The parents died in the accident, but the child, a little girl, was only badly bruised and was able to get out of the car and sat on a rock on the shore, near the car, for many, many hours until the accident was discovered and the little girl was taken to warmth and safety. When asked how she remained so calm and did not run off and become lost, she calmly stated that a person came to hold her hand and had kept her company while she waited. Can we either accept or understand the idea that we are never alone? We who claim the name of Christ, who endeavor to live lives in tune with what God would want and in so doing worship Him who has given us life not only in eternity, but in fullness, now struggle to do so in the worst of times unless we have love to guide us.

That is a most difficult reality in which to live. Because of sin that surrounds us and the weakness of the flesh, we find ourselves relying on what we are, in relation to our personal strengths and who we identify ourselves as, in terms of family, community and personal reflection. We most often stand on the strength that we are expected to have, and while in some cases these feelings can boost our desire to overcome, many other times they may lead to self-doubt, anxiety and worst of all fear. This fear tries to tell us that we are alone, that no one can or would understand. It is then that our faith can slide and we may cry out; “O God, where are you now?” While this cry may have credence in its inquiry, it does lend itself to the furtherance of our despair if we cannot hear God’s voice in answer to our plea.

It is that darkness that is the worst. It is this darkness that can cloud judgment, confuse the issues or even turn us away from the path that normally we would desire to travel… that toward God and not away from Him. Listening to our hearts rehearse the words of Scripture that tell us, “Fear not, for I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will build you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10) may not even always help us to turn the corner away from fear, and back toward the light of peace unless we have love to surround us... the touch of love that begins to heal the broken spirit.

There is little we can understand about God outside of the Scriptures, books on Biblical study and the revelation of what and who God is to not only those in Scripture, but for us today. Many today ask questions about His relevance to our times and if He really exists for today’s people and spend too much time in the relevance of who they are today and not enough on whom we will be in eternity. Hence the fear comes when our focus on the Giver of Life begins to pale and turns our hearts toward the emptiness of life’s cup and the fertile ground in which more fear grows. It is hard to lean on a God we cannot see, yet it is the only way to realize true faith. Faith is not possible when we try to focus on what we see, it is only possible when we focus on that which we cannot see.

Fear of the dark comes then in many disguises and can follow us throughout our lives. It comes as life changes take place, as we age and note the inescapable mortality that is ours as humanity. It is there as we face everything from unemployment to health issues, to daily life events that harbor thoughts of the great unknown and how it will affect our life and our future. Perhaps the key is not found in our ability to face the fear, but in our ability to remember that we are never alone. As we walk through this life maybe we can practice, during the good times, that ability to see the love that is there before us and be reminded that it does not disappear when our ability to see and feel its presence with us may seem to disappear. It may only be then, after practice, that we will have a partial glimpse of what God is constantly doing in relation to His relationship with us; His presence and love is with us no matter the time or the place… He is always there. Love is always the key; love of others, love of the life we have and most of all, love of God. God looks first at our ability to love in that order, far more than we realize. We must learn to live loved.... loved by God!

Fear of the dark may really be fear of the darkness in our human hearts, found in doubt and a previous experience of being alone in the human context to face fear alone. Take a walk in the other direction over the next few days. Walk towards God, looking for how He has affected your life with all the joys you know in family, friends and surroundings. Take stock of the many blessings and spend little or no time on the disappointments. Be reminded that you breathe because He gave you life and let go of that which may confuse the issue of His love. It will mean walking near the edge of your faith, but it may have an effect on your life, lending a new sense of joy, peace and hope, even when the world may be telling you otherwise.