Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
from “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henly
I’ve recently been thinking a bit about fear, and the things that hold us back from experiencing as full and rich of life as possible. I am amazed that when I take the time to explore my hesitation about doing something, it is very often based in some totally irrational fear. Over the last few years my relationship with and to fear has shifted in some fairly significant ways.
When I experienced the series of losses that occurred in 2011, I realized that I had been slammed by a heavy dose of painful realities. I had neither the time nor luxury to wallow in some sustained pity party. I had to figure out how I was going to live and try to continue supporting my two dependents as best I could without a consistent, steady source of income. I spent a few weeks alternating between being scared silly about what I was going to do to survive and depressed and emotionally overwhelmed by all the loss I experienced. And buried not too deeply underneath it all was the fear that I would “never” recover and lead any type of “normal” life again.
There’s a line in an old country song that says, “When you hit rock bottom, you’ve got two ways to go: straight up or sideways.” So I sat for a little while at rock bottom before I slowly began taking intentional steps that pulled me out of it. One of the lifelines by which I pulled myself up was expressing gratitude. Intentionally focusing on the things in my life for which I was grateful allowed me to build a foundation from which I could begin the healing process and get myself back together. Focusing on the many blessings in my life help me see very clearly that, in spite of the things I had suffered, I experienced many, many more good and positive things in my life than I had the negative. And while losing my father, separating from my significant other, being “let go” from my job, and losing my home in the span of a few months was difficult, I still considered myself very fortunate indeed.
I began to gain a new perspective on fear. It wasn’t that I now lived completely unafraid; like most people I still experience occasional fear that something bad might happen to me again. But when I examine the things that used to really make me nervous–like how a former boss was going to respond to something they didn’t like–I realize that their impact on me was minimal. Unless the boss was going to do bodily harm to one of my children or put someone I loved in mortal danger, there was little they could do to me that would do more than rattle me a little. I have not faced death, but I’d dealt with a lot of difficult things. They simply don’t have the same impact they used to. I really resonate with something Eleanor Roosevelt said about fear,
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'”
I have learned to “take the next thing that comes along.” It is not pleasant, and in fact can be quite difficult or painful, but increasingly I am looking fear in the face and moving forward in spite of it. And if I should hit rock bottom again, at least I’ll have seen what it looks like and can once again find my way out.
As I think about the various themes of these 40 days, I wonder if Jesus ever felt fear. I mean, before his arrest and torture and crucifixion, which would have frightened the bejeebers out of anyone, I wonder if he ever experienced any of the less dramatic fears that we regular folk sometimes stumble over. How did he deal with it if he felt it? Who comforted him. It is likely that he too had to find his way out of his traumas in similar fashion as we do now. At least I like to think that he did.
I have gained strength and wisdom from some of the difficult times I’ve faced. I don’t want to act like I’ve got everything together now, that nothing can frighten me. I have by no means arrived at such a high level of grace. But I have learned to get back up when I am knocked down, and I definitely learned what I was made of. I like to think I could face “the next thing” with some measure of equanimity. While I’m not anxious to flex that particular muscle any time soon, I believe if I need to I can, that the “menace of the years, finds and shall find me unafraid. I rest in a belief that at the end of the day, all truly shall be well.