Finding Freedom from Fears
For most of my life, I have struggled with fear. My fears have ranged from typical childhood worries like being afraid of the dark (okay…I admit it, there are still times when the dark freaks me out!), to complete imagined nightmares. As I grew older instead of my worries subsiding, they only intensified. With the slightest turbulence I was convinced the plane would crash, and with every pain in my body I was certain I had cancer.
About a year ago I realized how unhealthy my fears had become. I was frustrated with the amount of mental energy I was wasting by worrying about events that were unlikely to occur. They were negatively impacting my life by constantly consuming my thoughts, and taking away from my ability to relax and experience contentment. Wearied from this joy-stealing cycle I asked God to help me find freedom from my debilitating fears.
In my mind I envisioned God answering this prayer by instantaneously eliminating my fear like a disappearing puff of smoke. Though God can certainly work this way, in the case of my fears He has answered my request in a way I would never choose, and to be honest, I don’t particularly like. Instead of destroying my anxiety with a single command, God is removing the power of my fears by allowing me to confront one of my biggest ones: cancer.
Our natural human tendency is to question God’s character when “bad” things happen to us or those we love. I have wrestled through some of these questions with God since my diagnosis. After taking the time to grieve my disease and express to Him my anger and disappointment, I’ve recently asked God to give me more clarity to see my situation through His eyes. As I wait for His response, He keeps bringing me back to a passage in His Word which provides truth and comfort on the topic of fear:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
I have heard this verse many times before but never quite understood what it meant. As I looked to other sources for interpretation the passage started to make more sense.
In Beth Moore’s Esther study she referenced this verse and explained that “the word courage comes from the Latin word cor, which literally means heart.” She further revealed that “courage comes from a heart that is convinced it is loved.” This sparked my thinking that if I truly believe that God deeply and wholeheartedly loves me, then I can trust that He will give me everything I need. He will protect me, provide for me, and take care of me in all circumstances including when I am faced with my greatest fear.
Through this trial I am gaining both a greater glimpse into what I believe the verse above is communicating, and why I believe God is allowing me to walk through this difficult season. God knows that the more I grow in my relationship with Him and my understanding of the depth of His perfect love, the more I will begin to take courage and find freedom from my fears.
Interestingly enough, I ran across this concept in a book I picked up the other day. (Don’t you love how God seems to have a way to make whatever it is He is trying to teach you quite clear?)
“As we go through life, we will experience different challenges that may open the door to fears. In fact, God will sometimes place us right in the middle of a circumstance that is tailor-made to confront our fears. He does this because He loves us and wants to bring light and life to every part of our heart, especially those places that we’ve kept hidden for so many years” (Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety, pg 174).
Facing My Fear: Accepting My Cancer
About three months after praying for freedom from my fears, a female issue drove me to make an appointment with my gynecologist. What was considered to be a pretty normal problem turned out to be much larger than anyone anticipated. After several appointments, my doctor informed me I needed surgery to remove a large cyst on my left ovary because of its size and growth rate.
As you can imagine, this impending surgery unearthed many fears about the what-ifs that could transpire in the operation. (I wrote about the negative impact of ruminating on the what-ifs in my previous post entitled “Jump. I’ll Catch You.”) Despite my anxiety I tearfully surrendered my fears to the Lord and trusted His mighty hands would guide the doctors and protect my body. Little did I know confronting my fears about this initial surgery would be the first of many challenges I would face.
After performing my surgery my gynecologist met with Jared and my mom to relay the news that what we thought was a cyst, was actually a tumor. The doctor indicated that the tumor appeared benign, but she could not be certain until she received the test results back from the lab. While we awaited confirmation on the tumor’s composition, I slowly recovered from my surgery due to the large amounts of blood I lost in connection with the operation.
A week following my surgery I vividly remember sitting on the examination table as my doctor told Jared and me that my tumor was not benign. As she broke the news to us and handed me the name of a trusted oncologist, my body shook uncontrollably as I processed her words. All that I could think to say to her in that moment was, “We have a strong faith and it will get us through this.” Jared and I drove home mostly in silence that night unsure of the appropriate words to comfort each other. Just holding his hand seemed enough.
The date finally arrived for us to meet with the oncologist. I still remember walking slowly down the hospital hall and following the signs for “The Cancer Center” —a place I never imagined I would enter as a patient. As we sat in the waiting area I couldn’t keep my eyes from scanning the room and noticing the women scattered throughout with scarves and hats on their heads. The full reality of my cancer was finally hitting me and it was almost more than I could bear. I excused myself for the restroom as my eyes filled with tears. Once inside I recall saying to God under my breath, “I won’t get through this if You don’t go with me.”
Eventually we were ushered back to meet with the oncologist who explained our next steps which included a second surgery. After this consultation we spent the rest of the day at the hospital as I received a battery of tests to determine if the cancer had spread. At one point while lying on the table enduring further poking and prodding from the medical staff, tears dripped from my eyes to the paper draped over me. The poor technician administering the tests kept glancing up at me as I sniffed and wiped away my tears with the back of my hand. I wanted to explain the reason for my tears but I was too overwhelmed to express my thoughts with words.
I will never forget what I told the Lord in that moment. I silently said, “God, you are bringing me smack dab into my greatest fear.” And then in the tender way God responds, He brought back to mind the verse scribbled on a note card I had brought with me to the appointment:
“We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You” (Psalm 33:20-22).
As I lie there staring up at the ceiling tiles I repeated over and over in my head, “May Your unfailing love rest upon me, O Lord, even as I put my hope in You.” I am sure I said it at least 20 times as the tears rolled down my cheeks. There was never a time I needed God’s love to engulf me more.
Seeing the Value of My Difficult Road
This past Monday Jared and I once again followed the signs for “The Cancer Center,” this time so that I could start my chemotherapy. I sat with all of the other women waiting for blood tests and treatments, many with scarves covering their heads. As I looked around I remembered my prayer from several months before asking God for freedom from my fears. I never would have chosen to walk this road, but by God’s grace, He is using it to reveal to me more of Himself, including the truth that His power and love are greater than all my fears.
I look forward to sharing the second part of my story in my next entry. For now, the medicines they are pumping through my IV are causing me to drift to sleep, so until next time…
“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear” (Psalm 118:5,6).