What If Your Fears Come to Pass?

Hope, what if your deepest fears come to pass?

Your deepest fears, the ones that prickle just beneath your skin, the ones that no matter how hard you try to quiet, still pound in time with your heartbeat? 

If your fears come to pass, does it mean that your life will turn from one of hope into one of despair, from one of meaning into one of meaninglessness?

If your fears come to pass, does it mean that you mistepped and God sits there smugly, telling you that you made your bed, now go lie in it?

If your fears come to pass, does it mean that God isn’t good?

That He doesn’t love you? 

You seem to think so.

The fear of the future is the beginning of wisdom. Isn’t that how the verse goes? Because logically, it makes sense. It’s wise to analyze all the possible outcomes before taking a step, right? To be sure that this decision won’t shatter your life, because if you misstep, then God certainly won’t meet you where you messed up. Isn’t that how the verse goes?

The fear of man is the beginning of wisdom. Isn’t that how the proverb goes? Because if you look at the evidence around you, at the novels and poems and Instagram posts, human rejection shatters hearts and minds and lives, but human love heals and validates and means you are precious. Isn’t that how the proverb goes?

Of course, you know you’re dead wrong because you’ve memorized the real verse, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The truth lives in your mind, but the false proverbs with their human logic have snaked their way into your heart.    

I know the way you naturally think, the society you’ve grown up in. It’s an evidence-based, humanistic society, where truth only comes from a testable hypothesis, and citations and sources are demigods. I know you have a million of them, of these citations and sources that tell you fear is the wise and logical response. I know the pain you’ve endured, the rejection you lived, that your natural instinct is to self-protect and run rather than expose yourself to hurt all over again. 

But don’t forget this: a source can be beautifully written yet be completely false. A citation may be perfectly formatted but point back to a boldfaced lie. Evidence may be compelling until you find it’s been falsified.   

I want to tell you a story. 

It’s the story of King Hezekiah and the King of Assyria. 2 Kings 18:5-7 says that “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.”

Read further, and you’ll find that Hezekiah was far from perfect; he was just as broken and prone to sin as you, Hope, but he chose to trust God’s evidence over that of his attackers. 

To be sure, the King of Assyria’s men would’ve gotten an A+ in your English 101 class for their clear, concise argumentation supported by ample evidence.

“This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”

The evidence was there: no other nation had been able to withstand the forces of Assyria; their gods hadn’t helped them, so how could Hezekiah’s God?

But Hezekiah could see the hole in the king’s argument because He knew the power and character of the one true God.

And he prayed:

“It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.” (2 Kings 19: 17-19). 

Hezekiah was able to identify the lie and refuse fear because he had confidence in God’s power. It was true that the Assyrians had defeated other nations. Statistically, they would probably conquer Hezekiah’s people as well. But Hezekiah knew that God is not a God of statistics, but of miracles. 

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord.

And the Lord defeated the Assyrians and saved his people. 

When your heart is fearful, Hope, you only see within the confines of 80 years, you only see the steady aging of a finite frame and the fears that come along with it, of aging, death, of unfulfilled dreams and lost loved ones, of the pain of cancer and broken relationships, of being abandoned or never being enough to be chosen in the first place. 

The fear is a festering bullet wound that you’re only putting a bandaid on when you read a quick verse but continue to live like “the fear of the future is the beginning of wisdom,” like God only helps those who help themselves, and like getting through your 80 years with minimal pain is what you should aspire to.

But, Hope, if you stop looking forward and instead look back, the fear will shrivel, because there are countless stories of God bringing you through the fire not to die, but to be refined, not because He didn’t love you, but to show you just how much he does. Remember the time, not even two years ago, when he walked with you into that greatest fear, the one where you were clutching your life so tightly, you were about to shatter it.

When your greatest fears came to pass, you thought you would crumble. You thought that the evidence of your worthlessness was damning and that the pain would weigh heavy forever. Your eyes were blurred by looking at human evidence, but the whole time he held your hand leading you, refining you, and finally cleansing your gritty eyes so you could see the brilliant colors of truth. 

You just met a woman who faced her greatest fear, betrayal and rejection and the crumbling of her family. As she began to tell the story, you expected bitterness, but instead, her eyes shone with strength. There was pain and there were questions, but there was also a defiant hope. A defiant hope that said God is still good even though her circumstances are not.

Some throw around the phrase “God’s best” as synonymous with getting everything you’ve wanted in this life, with your story being tied up as neatly as a Hallmark movie. A happy marriage, financial security, and healthy kids-this is what we often mean when we pray for “God’s best.” But following this theology, many believers before us didn’t experience “God’s best.”

Job lost seven children in one day.

Jeremiah preached the truth and was rejected.

Noah obeyed God and was ridiculed. 

And as we learn in Hebrews 11, “some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated-the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” 

Hope, what if during these 80 years your questions are not answered, or your dreams fulfilled?

If your goal is the Hallmark movie, then of course you’ll be disappointed, you’ll grow bitter, and you’ll doubt God’s goodness. 

But at your core, you know that’s not what you truly want. You know that to pray for a Hallmark ending is to pray for a shallow, self-centered existence. God has put His Spirit in you and that Spirit cries out for meaning and depth and to live the sacrificial love of the one whose name you bear. 

Jesus’ kingdom call may mean the death of your dreams, but as soon as you open your hands, he’ll fill them with dreams greater than what you’ve imagined. 

And when you unclench your fists and surrender, you’ll realize there’s no need to fear. 

Because Hope, Jesus is faithful and true. Perfect love casts out fear, and He loves you perfectly. You are strong and courageous not because of you, but because His blood beats in your veins, you’ve derived your name from Him and the fearlessness he showed when he went to the cross. Satan showed Him the evidence, how at 33 years young, He would suffer torture and death and  separation from His Father. But Jesus knew that in light of eternity, in light of the joy of uniting the broken people He loved with God, that Satan’s evidence was a mirage. So he chose to face that fear, and he died. 

With 3 days in the grave, the proof piled up even higher, it said that clearly He was not the Savior, but a mere man who had rebelled against the truth and gotten himself killed because of it. Even His closest friends believed the evidence because it was flawless, but the evidence only spanned 3 days, 3 days that dawned into victorious eternity anchored in love. 

Hope, when fear tangles in your chest and anxiety stunts your breath, remember this: God is good and faithful and has always been your loving defender. Fear grows when you forget His faithfulness, but retelling the stories where He showed His perfect love casts out fear. And already, He’s filling you with a courage you didn’t think possible, you’re beginning to see outside the confines of the 80 years on earth, and you’re opening your tightly clenched fists. And one day, when you’ve run your race, you’ll see how each broken thread of your story is woven beautifully into the tapestry of His glory and salvation. You will see the redemption of all the hurt and betrayal and sickness and death, daughter of God, and when you do, it will be breathtaking. 

On Living in Tents and Longing for Home

I had become tired of the constant movement, of the unsettledness that was paired with joy and adventure and trust, but at the same time, had been slowly wearing down body and soul. It struck acutely the night I drove through the eerie dark of a lonely road headed into the heart of Florida. Irma was coming, and after the evacuation order, I was the only one naïve enough to be heading south. An hour away from my parents, I cringed when the radio reported that the eye of the storm had shifted to my destination. There was denial and fear and a realization that I couldn’t go back. Gas everywhere had run dry, and I would have to keep heading toward the storm.

I think I saw the sign for Palatka then, but I didn’t give it much thought.

~

In a whirlwind summer, I had graduated and gone to abroad, moved out of my parents’ just-sold house, and set up camp with friends while the future was a blank page. When I was just about to run out of money, Georgia called. After a few idyllic days in upstate New York eating raspberry chocolate ice cream and exploring trails and laughing my heart out with a best friend, I was sucked into the deep South. My body was in Savannah. My belongings were in Maine. My heart was in another country.

Like so many times in my life, I was in many places at once. And it ached.

~

On the drive back to Savannah after the storm, I noticed sign after sign for Palatka. In Florida, it was the name of a town, but in Russia, it was the word for tent. And with each sign, I was reminded of the theme that God had been writing into my life since I was 12 years old. Just a few months before, with ecstatic joy, I stood in front of the people who spoke the language I loved and read to them from Hebrews 11. I read that Abraham left to follow the Lord, how he didn’t know where he was going, and that that was how my journey had started too, a journey that had led me to them. Those words had so often shot me with strength as a foreigner. But I was beginning to long for an end to the wandering, an end to the loneliness.

I longed for a place that would feel like home. And as the year went on, this feeling grew, and simultaneously, so did the taunts of guilt.

~

Being in this new place, this new culture, brought me again to the mountains I had climbed in Russia: loneliness that I struggled through daily and a job that drew on every last reserve. The difference here though was that this was permanent. I imagined year after year stretching out before me in this unsettled, exhausted state, fulfilling my calling, but wilting by the day.

~

The idea first came in February. My best friend and I were talking on the phone for the thousandth time about how things would be so much better if we were just in the same place. To encourage each other, to support each other in this often perplexing stage of life. And for the first time in years, it struck me as a real possibility.

But as soon as the hope took shape, the guilt that has subtly prodded me for years voiced its thoughts. One of my greatest fears as a Christ-follower is complacency, of becoming so comfortable that I turn inward, cozily ignoring those who need Him while enjoying a life of ease. And my black and white mind reasoned that since the reality I was currently living was anything but comfortable, that staying where I was must be the only way to fulfill my calling. In a mind that is so often uncomfortable with nuance, I had leaned into an almost ascetic viewpoint, the binary being that either I was miserable, lonely, and serving God, or complacent, superficially happy, and ignoring Him.

I longed for a place that felt like home, but I feared that having a home would blur my global vision.

I longed for a family of my own, but the words of Paul haunted me, making me fear that receiving this desire would numb my devotion to Christ.

On one of many nights processing all these thoughts with my Dad, something he said challenged my narrow perspective. “Hope,” he said, “I think you have more freedom in Christ than you realize.”

~

He was right. Absolutely right.

Following Jesus is so much bigger and freer than the way I was living.

As I prayed, discernment came as to what was self-imposed legalism and what was actually His calling on me in this season. And although I firmly believe that God often calls us to specific places at certain times (#russia!), I sensed from Him a beautiful freedom to take a step toward a place I never thought I’d be.

~

I recently was reading Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jerusalem, and I noticed something early in chapter 29 that I never had before. Although the Israelites were in exile, God commanded them to settle down where they were and to live life in the midst of the imperfection: to plant gardens,  to seek the peace and prosperity of the place they were exiled, to get married and to have children. Far from telling them to live in sackcloth for 70 years while they awaited their freedom, God showed care for His people’s physical needs and compassion for their humanness.

Even in tents, even in a body and soul that groan for more, the Lord gives rest and friendship and the Holy Spirit within us. And I am convinced that as I look forward in joy toward this big move, that this joy is from God. This is the first time in longer than I can remember that I have been so full of hope and passion for the unknown callings ahead of me. So in less than a month, I’ll be packing up my tent in Savannah and pitching it in upstate New York. I suspect that this won’t be my last move. Knowing me, I’ll continue to end up in places I never imagined I would be 🙂 But for now, Burnt Hills sounds a lot like home.

 

Destination: Unknown

Ten years ago, I sat huddled inside a bus with dingy drapes, the steady beat of potholes jarring my head as I tried in vain to rest against the cold window. As I shivered and peered out the glass into the darkness of a Russian night, two questions circled, “where on earth am I going, and what have I gotten myself into?” I sat scared and vulnerable, my mind’s projections of my destination making me wish I could turn the bus around. Fettered by the unknown, I had no idea that I would be swept up into an adventure that would radically change the direction of my life, that I would meet people who would leave indelible marks on my heart, and that I would experience God’s faithfulness with a beauty and depth I had never known. No, all I could see that night was darkness.

In the same way, these last four months have felt similar to that dark night as a twelve year old on my way to Russia for the first time. Anxiety loves to feed off the unknown, and these past four months have been a constant tug-of-war between feeding the indefinite to my anxiety or to my God.

In the waiting, the voice of fear has been a constant attacker, tainting the joy that should be bubbling over. Fear loves to make me turn inward and focus on me and my abilities: “What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are? What do you know about teaching? You are inarticulate and will fall flat on your face.” Fear loves to fill my mind with the soundtrack of human approval:  “What if you don’t live up to the university’s expectations? What if everything you do is met with frustration and misunderstanding? What if your students don’t like you?” In short, fear loves to get my mind off God and onto the idols of self and others.

Fear wants to make this adventure smaller; it wants to tame it into something manageable and shaped like me. Fear wants me to lose sight of the vastness of God’s plan and have me settle for something comfortable and controllable. I serve the God who not only created the universe, but redeemed me from my sin, and I don’t want to spit on the sacrifice he made for my freedom by acting as if I were still a slave.

But right now, I feel just as blinded to the vastness of God’s plan as I did when I was on that bus ten years ago. I have two choices in this blindness: fear or faith. When I submit to fear because of my lack of sight, I begin to feel like a shell of myself. Instead of adventurous, I feel apprehensive. Instead of full of life and enthusiasm, I feel bottled, restrained and cold. Instead of joyful, I feel depressed; instead of active, I feel passive. But when I choose confidence in the unseen because of the God whose hand I do see, my anxiety is exchanged for joy, freedom, and perspective.

So in this period of the “night bus,” while my vision is foggy and my mind tempted to fear, I want to walk confidently into the future as Abraham did, who, “by faith…when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)