One of the hardest things for me to reconcile, to work out with fear and trembling, is the relationship between faith and fear.
It seems, at least for me, that the two go hand in hand. When I am on the brink of experiencing something amazing in God, I’m also generally the most scared I’ve ever been.
Whenever God has come through at the last second, it’s been while I’m biting my nails and fighting with Stephen and not sleeping and just so stressed out. And then, just like that, breakthrough in one way or another. And in retrospect I am able to see how I was so scared and that’s why I was biting my nails and fighting with Stephen and not sleeping and so stressed out. At the time, though, I am very bad at identifying the fear that cripples. The fear that tries oh so hard to stop me or us from making whatever decision we’re on the cusp of.
Now there have been times, plenty in fact, where I’m in the middle of some crazy risk and I’m not scared. The whole peace of Christ thing has ringed true for me more than once. When we made the decision to move to Thailand and got pregnant and moved into a one bedroom apartment to save money. I knew those were the right decisions and I knew something huge was coming our way. I felt crazy peace about those decisions, about the direction we were headed.
There were moments, sometimes moments that happened at the exact same time as moments of total assurance and peace, where I was scared. It’s that tension I’m talking about. The tension where peace and knowing in your bones something is right and a pounding heart and quiet questioning live together, hand in hand. The tension of both knowing and still wondering.
I find myself at that crossroads again as we approach Stephen’s next surgery. Moving half way around the world is becoming more and more real as we tick these events off the list. Baby? Check. Surgery? Check. The medical debt is mounting, the relationships between Shepherd and his grandparents are growing, the fall is coming closer and my anxiety is slowing peaking its head around the corner.
I believe God. I believe that the Bible is true. I believe that if God has ever once worked a miracle, ever once provided for someone or something, He can do it again. The stories and poems and verses in the Bible that describe God’s faithfulness and love and loving character aren’t simply nice sentiments to me. I believe them. I am building my life on them and I’ve started building my son’s life on them as well.
So if I believe God, if I believe His words to be real and alive and true and powerful, then why do I so often find myself standing between fear and faith, arms spread out and hands gripping onto each?
One of my favorite chunks of Scripture is Jeremiah 1. It’s the account of the prophet Jeremiah being called by God to speak on God’s behalf. It starts out with this beautiful verse about how God knew Jeremiah and set him apart before Jeremiah was even alive in his mother’s womb. God explains that He has called Jeremiah to speak for Him and Jeremiah is scared. He says he can’t; that He’s too young.
God’s response is simply: “Don’t say ‘I am too young’, for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and protect you.”
I don’t really find an out here. There’s not really a clear exit from experiencing fear and faith at the same time. What I do see and what is really clear is that we must. We must go where He sends us and we must say what He tells us. The place of fear or worry is secondary after our obedience.
I don’t see a promise that we will feel good or have this totally brave heart. I see a command to obey, to do. To live a certain a way and do certain things. The fear will be dealt with and it will be dealt within the context of His presence. His nearness to us.
It makes me believe that God isn’t interested in solutions. He loves the tension. He loves pushing us and commanding us to live lives that invite space for the tension of fear and faith to exist because He wants relationship with us. He wants us to run to Him, to depend on Him, to need Him. So that we will experience Him.
He wants us to believe Him and He wants to make the words and the promise that His presence will be what protects us real for us. And He does that in the space where the tension between fear and faith live.
So I think, and I feel like this is what was happening in Jeremiah’s life, that He calls us to live lives that create the space for that tension to exist.
But the tension doesn’t feel awesome. And, if you’re like me, you get annoyed that your heart isn’t caught up to your brain in believing God is God and His Word and promises are true.
There are times when the tension resolves and times when it doesn’t.
I’ve resolved this tension before by grabbing the hand of faith and letting the hand holding onto the fear open. I open that hand just enough to let the questions fall through my fingers and make space for something else to grab onto. I resolve this tension by deciding. Deciding what to cling to.
Those times are great. They become amazing stories of God’s faithfulness and goodness that I can work into a sermon or some lesson. I feel good, the story sounds good and it makes God look good.
But that’s not life. Most of the crossroads I experience don’t resolve totally or they’re ongoing and morph into something else entirely.
So what then?
For when I’m sitting square in the middle of faith and fear?
Well, I take heart. I know that both faith and fear can exist at the exact same time and that is not a threat in and of itself. The existence of fear next to my faith does not make my faith weak or less. It just is. And sometimes I need to simply be okay with the fact that we’re doing many things. And these many things offer fear a place at the table. But I am ultimately in charge of how much that fear gets to speak while at the table.
The fact that we’re living a life that invites fear should reassure me. Because it’s what we see in Scripture. It’s the command God gives to His workers, the ones going for Him, time and time again. He commands them not to be afraid, to control the fear that their life and their actions are inviting to the table.
We don’t like tension. I don’t like tension. I like to move squarely onto faith, not sit at the intersection where it meets fear. I like to have some sort of emotional and spiritual proof that I believe God. The proof being faith, only faith. No fear. Tension gone.
But that’s not me. And that’s not my life. And while this has bugged me before and I’ve gotten really frustrated and discouraged with myself for not living on faith’s side of the street, I’ve come to learn that, whether I like it or not, that’s just not my God.
He, amazingly enough, does not baulk at the presence of fear. He is intimidated by nothing. And, much to my dismay at times, He is in the business of calling people to live lives that will, at one point or another, invite fear to pop its head in through the door.
And so I have a choice. I can be safe and do everything I can to make sure I’m living a life that doesn’t attract fear.
Or, I can obey God and deal with it. I can deal with feeling the tension, feeling uncomfortable, feeling unsure while so sure.
And I can watch what God does in the space tension provides.
The choice is mine, and it’s scary.