I might be the only person ever to get a Ford Focus up to 115mph. The owner’s manual, in fact, even cautions against taking it faster than 80mph. And I remember it shaking like it would absolutely disintegrate as soon as I passed the century mark. But, I didn’t have much of a choice. A few moments before, I had seen my worst fear in the rearview mirror. While driving through a long open stretch of Kansas highway, miles and miles from the closest building, a huge bolt of lightning lit up the midnight sky to reveal a funnel cloud touching down behind my car.
Some context: I wasn’t just a little bit afraid of tornadoes...I was paralyzingly terrified of them. My earliest prayers as a child were that the storm would pass. I’d thrown up more than once at the sound of a tornado siren. And even though I was a grown man in my early 20s, I still had never shaken the fear. I’d have gone 180mph if the car had let me.
Then, about a year after my experience as an unintentional stormchaser, that lifelong fear went away. Suddenly and completely. And, even better, it’s never returned. What changed? Maybe not what you’d expect: my father died.
I’d grown up with this fantastic, involved, loving dad. Things just felt safe around him. Like if my newly training-wheel-free bike was about to tip over, he’d just magically appear to right things again before I hit the ground. And, he was a relentless champion for me. One time he encouraged me to try out for the open pitching spot on my little league team. He worked with me for weeks even while my teammates called me “Gator” because I looked more than a little like an alligator trying to throw a ball. It went about as you’d expect. The coach rightly gave up on my try out after my very first throw went wild, but the message was clear that my dad was never giving up on me.
Years later, when I was 24, I had my whole family over a week before Christmas to celebrate. It was my first year in my own home. I was proud that I was growing up and eager to show off for Dad. I remember walking out front in the freezing cold with him to inspect a water main that had burst in the street. We left our coats inside, stared at the fountain of water, and said vaguely manly things like “looks like it burst” and “sure is a lot of water.” I was certain this was what it meant to be a man. Before he went home that night, we talked about our favorite movies (his was Dances with Wolves), bragged about our biggest car repair accomplishments (I’d changed my own oil once), hugged each other and said “I love you.” The next morning, with no warning at all, he was gone.
My dad’s death had a way of quickly and permanently rearranging my worldview. It felt bigger than anything I’d ever gotten close to. It felt overwhelming. And, all sorts of things that used to feel big were suddenly dwarfed. That old fear of tornadoes, this thing that had haunted me for so long, was suddenly so tiny when put up against the loss of my father.
So, my fear of storms was gone. But fear and I were far too close of friends at this point for that to be the end of the story. The fear that came in next was darker. And quieter. I began to fear my own body. Hypochondria is a word that our culture throws around to mean someone who washes his hands too much during flu season. The real thing can be pretty debilitating. I’d spend months thinking I had heart disease, or brain cancer, or that I was going deaf or any one of a dozen other awful conditions. I’d learn later that this is a pretty normal reaction to losing a parent, but at the time it just felt like I was going crazy. I’d eventually stagger into the doctor for tests, be told I was perfectly healthy, and then the cycle would repeat itself with some other completely fictional disease. It was like a funnel cloud was constantly in my rearview mirror and, in order to escape, my brain was constantly going way faster than it was designed to go.
But then, that fear went away too.
What changed this time? I found something I’d been looking for for a very long time...God. The earliest prayers I remember praying were those fear based prayers asking for the storm to pass as a kid. Now, at a loss for what else to do, I prayed prayers that were awfully similar. I had almost no context for this stuff. I wasn’t raised with much religion at all and almost no one in my life was really telling me this was the answer. I just knew I needed help.
A friend invited me to church. Surprisingly, it was actually okay. I showed up more. I cracked open a Bible. It was weird. I met some people who seemed further along than I was spiritually. And, just like I might ask a friend with more money than me for financial advice, I asked them for some help around this God stuff. Their advice was decent. Pretty soon, I was even excited to show up at church. It felt like home. I started reading the Bible for more than 30 seconds at a time. It got less weird. Things came into focus. I started praying around things beyond just my fears.
And, it worked. God showed up. He felt bigger than anything I’d ever gotten close to. He felt overwhelming. And, all sorts of things that used to feel big were suddenly dwarfed. This hypochondria thing that had haunted me for so long was suddenly so tiny when put up against my Father.
Just like my dad, it feels now like God just won’t give up on me. One of many places He’s met me recently is at this thing called Man Camp. The first time I went, someone from stage asked “How many of you feel inadequate?” As I raised my hand, the first thing I noticed was that nearly every other hand in the room was raised. Then I felt this wave of approval come over me. Just like my dad never really cared how my failed pitching tryout went, God loved me just as unconditionally. My failures, including all of my useless fears throughout the years, simply did not matter to Him. He loved me - and all the other dudes with their hands in the air - despite it all.
Look, I don’t live a fearless life now. Fear is still more of a friend than I want it to be. But, it just doesn’t matter so darn much anymore. I’m finally free of it. Perspective can do amazing things to reveal the lies that fear tries to tell us. Your fear is smaller than you think. No matter how big it might feel, when put next to a God whose reach expands beyond the edges of the Universe, you can barely even see it.
Leader | Legacy Builder | Cincinnati Champion
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