We’re created to be fear-less, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV). We’re equipped with the best of all that’s divine - power, love, a sound mind - to live with a built-in resistance to fear, in and through every circumstance of life.
So what is it about grief that nurtures fear in our spirit? One of the most ordinary, daily, persistent ways we experience fear is worry. Grief exaggerates our worry - we’re fearful about life because the death of our loved one is forcing us to change. When something or someone sparks a certain unrest within our heart and soul, it takes only a wisp of negative suggestion to fan worry into flaming, blazing, all-out raging fear.
One of the qualities I loved most about my husband was that he refused to worry. He lived his faith with a remarkable, biblical absence of worry in his life, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27). From the onset of his illness Leighton spent hours in bed at home thinking about his life and contemplating his possible death. He reflected and meditated but without evident fear or discernible worry. We talked about fear - he wasn’t afraid of what was to come. I was. I feared for Leighton and for myself. To honor his faith and mine, I stashed my fear and worry behind a facade of daily encouragement and hope.
In sharp contrast to his outward and inward calm, I plunged head-first into the abyss of fear, imaging every possible worst-case scenario and outcome - except death. Worry became for me what seemed like a full-time job. I spent a lot of emotional energy ferociously resisting adjustment to the sudden, utter chaos of his illness. I recognized, too, the unalterable changes already happening in my own life - going home from the hospital every night to an empty house was unaccustomed and uncomfortable. I was alone, our world was ending, I was powerless to stop it.
During the eight long weeks of hospital routine – living and dying - as Leighton and I prayed together each day our roles shifted. I became the leader. Leighton was needy, he depended on my strength and stamina, meager as it was at the time. I felt like a spiritual amateur in his shadow, like a faith fraud because I was so worried about him and his life. And this is why sometimes the only prayer we can whisper is “Lord, help me” (Matthew 15:25 NRSV).
Only seldom did Leighton ask others to pray for him. When he did, the prayer he requested was for calmness of spirit. What I observed and sensed and, at the end experienced in a very real way was that in his personal relationship with God he had every matter of his own soul and spirit completely resolved. He was fear-less – he lived without fear, he died without fear. He was a man at peace.
Fear and trust are at opposite ends of the spectrum of our human emotions, especially when we grieve. As the magnified worry of grief slowly diminishes over time, we learn again to trust in life. Even when we cannot fully comprehend where life has been or where it's leading, we dare to trust, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (Proverbs 3:5b NRSV). And through our faith we move from being the victim of fear - however we experience and express it - to a life of fear-less hope and victorious belief in the future.
Out of my distress I called on the Lord: the Lord answered me and set me free. With the lord on my side I do not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:5-6 RSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the courage of your strength. Amen.
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