The Unnatural Feeling of Fear

A few years ago, I went on a summer retreat to Mater Dolorosa, in California’s Sierra Madre Mountains. There, in the company of writer friends, we enjoyed an invigorating and scenic escape from our everyday lives.

After a session one evening, instead of going to sleep, I went outside and sat on a bench. The sky was brilliant with stars and the night air was perfectly chilly. And I felt completely alone and out of place all of a sudden.

Thousands of miles from my East Coast home, and about a year before I moved to Los Angeles, I looked down onto the valley below and saw all the distant lights from buildings that made the landscape look like a big glowing, sunken birthday cake. I imagined all the happy lives going on down there, and I saw all my seeming limitations and obstacles and losses and unfulfilled dreams.

At that very moment, an unnatural fear almost paralyzed my body. I had the sense that time had raced by and had left me behind. There seemed little to show of my life, and I felt I had little to offer. I knew that wasn’t how God saw me, but in those vulnerable times, sometimes we’ll believe anything but the truth…

Around the woods in Mater Dolorosa are life-sized statues of the Stations of the Cross, beautiful sculptures showing the life of Christ as He made His way to Calvary. I wanted to walk the path in those woods to see all the sculptures lit up at night. It would be a holy walk, a personal time with Him, to talk with Him and reflect on His life and mine…

But the fear came on so strongly and seemed to keep me sitting on that bench, frozen. All the little bits of fear that had passed my way during my life, and that I had batted away, now snowballed into an unholy avalanche. (By nature, I’m independent and a pretty adventurous sort of person and always have been. And when I finally did move out to California, I went by myself, cross country, in my little car and what would fit into it, stopping along the way to see the sights, including the Grand Canyon, which is a story for another day…) So. This moment sitting affixed to that bench was not pleasant and not natural.

I spoke out loud to Him all I was feeling in that very moment: “Lord, I’m afraid. I don’t know why, but I am. I’m afraid of everything at this moment. I’m afraid of life; I’m afraid of death — and I’m even afraid to get up and take this walk around the stations. And there’s no one to walk with me…”

Immediately, what I felt was as supernatural as the unnatural feeling of fear. I felt I was in His Presence. The fear left instantly and my soul felt like it was being lifted out of my body. Such freedom and joy and peace… At the same time I felt all that, I had a quick mental image of Him casually standing in front of me, tapping my knee to get my attention, with the same playfulness as a fun-loving brother. He extended His hand, inviting me to stand up. It wasn’t a picture I had conjured up; it wasn’t even an image of how I imagined Jesus would act if you did run into Him on a starlit mountaintop. But it was what it was, and it was comforting. It was also like looking into another dimension for a brief second. And I heard in my spirit His excitement: “Do you want to walk? I’ll walk with you! Come on!” Because that “voice” was so clear, I said yes and jumped up.

The whole time I walked the stations, His Presence remained strong, like walking around in some invisible, protective bubble. Finally, after finishing the walk, another statue caught my eye. A statue of Him, alone, with arms wide open, as if ready to embrace the onlooker. I walked up to it, as I love sculpture, but even though the white marble was beautiful, something seemed “off”… The face on this statue was uninviting, not even a hint of a smile.

“Jesus,” I said out loud. “They got your face wrong.”

And just as clear as day, in my spirit I heard Him answer: “Yeah, but they got the arms right…”

P.S. — I thought the Mater Dolorosa story might make a good unconventional post for today, Holy Thursday…

When Jesus was overcome with fear in the Garden of Gethsemane, when His sweat turned to drops of blood, which is scientifically possible, maybe that fear was unnatural, and responding to it was out of character for Him … to His true self… Yes, Jesus is both human and divine, but when you look at all the other times He faced fear, when He faced evil, square in the face, until it had no effect anymore, maybe there’s more to this story than we see at first glance…

Maybe at that moment, it was all about us… As He was in the process of giving up His life on Earth, maybe it was an avalanche of fear from every bit of human experience… From the past, present and future, and from every imaginable horrific circumstance, maybe it was all rolled into one agonizing experience for Him, trying to crush his spirit, if that were even possible… Maybe God the Father allowed that experience partly so that Jesus could know firsthand how we feel when fear attacks and we don’t want to walk through what’s ahead.

I think when someone knows from experience how another person feels, there’s trust that develops. And then that trust builds a relationship. And in that relationship, love grows, until the fear is gone and you have courage and peace to step forward and keep walking, even if you fall, free from whatever was holding you back … free to be all you were meant to be … just like Jesus…

Although there’s a “Garden of Gethsemane” and “Good Friday” experience at some point in everyone’s life, there’s Resurrection Sunday ahead…

Have a very meaningful, reflective Holy Week, everyone…

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7 thoughts on “The Unnatural Feeling of Fear

  1. Just beautiful! It is marvelous that when we turn our eyes upon Jesus, the things of earth “grow strangely dim” … including fear! THANK YOU and have a BLESSED Resurrection Day!

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