Fear is insidious, especially in grief. Fear assaults us, it ambushes us. Fear grips our mind. Fear wages a turf war between what we feel and what we believe. Fear challenges the depth and breadth and substance of our faith. It’s a battle royal between our heart, our mind, and our soul, each vying for mastery of fear in response to our faith. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Fear is a very real part of grief.
What is it about grief that incites our fear? Sometimes we fear our own grief – our emotions are foreign and unfamiliar. It takes an inordinate effort to sort through what we’re really feeling.We may dread what we’ll discover if we take a deep look inside and examine our heart. Grief is strange new territory. When we grieve the death of one we love, it’s entirely normal to experience what feels like rampant fear for a while.
In the next week I’d like to share here a little of my own hard-won perspective on the fear of grief. My beloved husband preached on Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (RSV). I remember his theology balanced with tender comfort and insight, yet at the time I had no idea what it meant to go through the valley of the shadow of death, especially the “fear no evil” part. But when Leighton died I arrived rudely and quite unexpectedly at the valley of the shadow of death. And what I found at the threshold was fear. “Fear no evil” - it's much easier said than done.
My fear was giant, raging, completely irrational. I needed new towels. Could I afford to keep our home? The iron broke two days after the funeral – Ironing? Why was I ironing? What was I ironing? Buying a new one seemed a fearsome, monumental task, a task too large for my grief. It rained, the roof leaked. I feared everything that was happening and lived in fear of everything that would yet be – life was defined for a while by a series of small disasters that, at the time, seemed no less than catastrophic.
Fear feeds on our shock. As I sat alone immobilized by shock a few days after Leighton died, I felt a tidal wave of fear literally engulf my entire being - in every bone, muscle, cell, and fiber of my mind and body. And in that moment, I felt an overwhelming fear that had nothing to do with the convictions of my faith as I came face to face with the reality of grief.
A few weeks later I was working at my office trying to make order out of our personal business. I remember feeling anxious and fearful - I didn’t want to make a mistake. I felt inadequate and found myself second guessing every decision. The cause was fear magnified by physical and emotional exhaustion. Because many of our decisions after the death of a loved one require wisdom, clarity, and discernment, I realized that, at least for a while, I would have to do business in slow motion. Sometimes fear reduces us to a kind of mental half speed – we’re temporarily fogged in, we’re unable to decide or act.
Fear is a normal part of the experience of grief. Gratefully we’re equipped with the spiritual resources to disable our fear - prayer, hope, trust, and faith. And when we’re fearful, when we acknowledge that fear is driving our grief, when we feel powerless to do anything except succumb to our fear for a while, we overcome our fear through the strength of God’s strong, ever-present hand in ours. Our hand is in God’s hand. God’s hand holds ours.
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you “Do not fear, I will help you.”
Isaiah 41:13 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the power of your protection. Amen.