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Fear and Grace

Four years ago I nearly died of pneumonia. It is something I have looked back on ever after to help me understand strength in the face of trials. Not my own strength. God’s.

It wasn’t just that He gave the doctors wisdom, or that He enabled me to get the right antibiotics, or even that He spared my life, although He did all these things, and I am tremendously thankful. But the reason I look back so often is for what it taught me about fear and about the difference between imagining a trial and actually going through that trial.

See, I have a very vivid imagination and a really rotten habit of letting it run. It used to be worse. When my mind was quiet, like when I was exercising or driving somewhere, I’d start thinking, and before I knew it, the thoughts would turn to fear. What if our house burned down while I was out and our little dog was trapped? What if I get a call that my dad had a heart attack in the night? What if my husband gets in a car accident? What would I do if God let something awful happen? Stuff like that happens to other people. I had no guarantee it wouldn’t happen to me. As I went about my peaceful, happy life, I’d live through one horrible thought after another. One of the things I was most afraid of was that I would die somehow, and my children would be left without behind without a mother. The thought of letting my babies go nearly always brought tears to my eyes.

You might ask why I would think about awful things that weren’t even true especially given verses like Philippians 4:8 and all. The answer is that I had an undisciplined mind and also that I lacked faith. Because my life had been so relatively easy and beautiful up to that point, the idea of trouble was a great specter of the unknown.

Then I got pneumonia. I got very sick, very fast, and one morning, I could hardly breathe. I was so out of breath, I could barely even get dressed to go to the ER. I remember my shallow breaths fluttering like fragile wings and my husband’s desperate hand on my back, pushing me from behind as I slowly shuffled the endless few feet from the curb into the emergency room door. Once I got there, the nurse took one look at my blood oxygen level, and started yelling, “I need respiratory in here STAT.” They gave me an oxygen mask, and I just sucked and sucked on it, trying to stay conscious while listening to them talk about transferring me by ambulance to a bigger hospital and possibly putting me on a respirator.

In the midst of all this, my mother-in-law came to take my children to a friend’s house. I couldn’t nurse my four month old. He’d have to be on formula. Such an unthinkable thing to a La Leche League member like me. Now a matter of course. I reached out to my baby boy in his car seat next to me, and softly touched his cheek. He cried. And I drew back my hand.

“Say goodbye to Mommy,” my husband said. And my children disappeared out the door.

Just like that. I let them go.

At that moment, neither my husband nor I were sure if they’d ever see me again. I wasn’t able to talk. I couldn’t tell them I loved them or say goodbye. I was facing my worst fear. And it was OK. It was OK.

In that awful moment, there was perfect peace.

Martha Peace wrote about exactly this in one of her books. (I think it was The Excellent Wife.) She pointed out that when we are simply imagining chilling scenarios, we are facing the horrible emotions without any of God’s sustaining grace. Every time we imagine something, we put ourselves through agony of a kind we will never have to go through in real life. Because when awful things are actually happening, God walks with us through them and gives us His grace and strength. The peace of God’s presence through a trial is something I can never conjure up in my imagination, and something that only comes with real trials, not the pretend ones I make up while driving. Now I know the difference.

So today, when the what-ifs come darkening the clear skies of a quiet moment, I try to remind myself that if something like that were to actually happen, it wouldn’t be like I imagine it. I have no idea the peace, and strength, and grace the Lord would give me. I’m sure you’ve heard that trite little saying, “The will of God will never lead us where the grace of God cannot keep us.” It’s true.

18 comments to Fear and Grace

  • Wow. I have *never* thought about this before. I also (of course, we’re twins) have a ridiculously vivid imagination, and I’ve also been one to sit at home, waiting for Trevvor to arrive from his long commute, thinking, “What if he never makes it home? What if I’m a widow by 22?” Etc, etc. And my mind whirls through the “then what’s” like, “Would I ever marry again? Would I move back in with my parents? How would I handle it?” I think so much that it brings me to tears, and yet I’ve never realized the beautiful truths you just shared: if and when it really happened, God would be with me, but I can’t factor that assurance in to my wandering mind.

    “The Excellent Wife” is next on my reading list. :) I have shelves of books I want to read and re-read now that the “required” learning of college is over with.

  • Adele

    Very interesting and thought-provoking post. I can really relate to this one.

  • Rebekka

    This is so true, I have experienced this for myself, and as a nurse I see it every day in others.

    I am totally convinced that this is what supporters of abortion and euthanasia just don’t understand when they argue about “quality of life”. Of course sometimes one is still amazed by the human capacity for enduring suffering, but the fear of suffering is in the vast majority of times worse than the suffering itself, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to improve someone’s quality of life by taking their life away!!!

  • Laurie

    Loved this!

    I have experienced this peace – when my daughter died six years ago. About a half hour before she left us, it was as if God whispered into my soul the shadow of what was to come… I simply knew. But, I was totally at peace about it, knowing that He was holding us all. In the years since, my experience has equipped me to better “test the spirits” – if I am overcome with anxiety, then I know it is not God bringing the news.

    I appreciate this blog today because we are in a season where we know many friends and family going through severe trials. As I pray for them, I find myself overwhelmed with the emotion and fear which I “imagine” they must be experiencing. But I’ve been convicted to remember the Father who so sweetly carried me through my own trial and, instead of pleading with Him to provide His comfort to others, I can praise Him for the fact that He’s already doing so much more than I can tangibly witness. Your blog today confirmed that conviction.

  • Thank you for this post. I can entirely relate to having a vivid and over-active imagination that thinks up some of the worst scenarios and wonders how on earth I could ever get through them. As my husband and I are facing some hard decisions and I wonder how I would ever deal with either choice, this post has been a great reminder. Thank you again…

  • Oh my…how did you know I have been struggling with just this all week? Rather for most of my adult life, but really bad this past week? This week I’ve been thinking of how I would be if somehow my children and husband were suddenly taken away from me. How could I continue to live? It has really been convicting me of who I am in Christ…yes, I am a wife & a mother, but that is not what defines me. It is a bit scary walking down this road really stretching me to trust HIM with everything, even the people I love the most. I don’t know if all this makes sense…but your post really encouraged me. Thank you!!

    p.s. Loving the new page!! I promise I am going to blog again someday as well!

  • Kindra

    Thanks for this. I always thought that I was a weirdo who always conjured up the worst-case scenario for myself and my family. You’re totally right that it’s the cause of an undisciplined mind and lack of faith. Praise God for the peace that passes all understanding through Christ Jesus!

  • I had never put that thought together – that we go through our imagined terrors without God, but in the real-life situations He is with us. So very true.

    Last fall my middle son was hospitalized for a week and a half with a ruptured appendix and subsequent infection. None of us enjoyed the experience (!) but I can honestly say I had peace through it all, and it seemed he did too, though he suffered. God truly carried us.

    Julie

  • Wow!! The best post you’ve ever written! It spoke right to my heart. I think I’ll print it out and tape it to the fridge, OK?

    Imagined fear.. Oh God, I have sinned. I’m a reckless sinner.

    What a great word to start my day on–living in the moment!!

  • My favorite part is “Because when awful things are actually happening, God walks with us through them and gives us His grace and strength. The peace of God’s presence through a trial is something I can never conjure up in my imagination, and something that only comes with real trials, not the pretend ones I make up while driving.”

    ~oOo~

    It’s not the “my kids are gonna die” or the “what ifs” that get me. It’s the “He’s gonna be mad. How dare he get mad! Doesn’t he know…etc. etc.” or “she’s going to think I’m crazy” and then I ACT on these silly imaginations instead of what is REALLY happening.

    True, God walks with us through all trials. To have it in the front of our minds, to live life with our hand in His, is Peace –

    What a wonderful truth we all need to remember. Thank you Mrs. Parunak.

  • Kathy

    So true. We would never choose to go through difficult times, but having gone through them in the past it does change how we see the future. It’s interesting how different personalities react to stress, though. I tend to be very Robinson Crusoe. Since I was tiny, I’ve always known exactly what I would do: if my parents died, if my house burned down, if I went blind, if I got in a car accident. I don’t feel sad about it; it just seems natural to me to expect the world to collapse. And, I know God will be there when it does.

    The struggle for somebody with my personality type or experience or however you want to look at it is not so much to let go of the worry that God won’t be there when the dramatic things go wrong, but why he sometimes seems so absent in the daily things. The easy answer is that when we’re far from God it’s always our fault, but I don’t know. Often, yes. Always? I wonder.

  • I am like you in that my imagination also gets the best of me. Trusting completely in the Lord is the only way to solve the problem (well any problem really). I just addressed “worry” on my blog and would love to hear your thoughts if you have the time.

    http://frappuccinosaremyfriend.blogspot.com/2010/02/whatever-it-is-give-it-to-lord.html

  • This is such a great point. It reminds me of that quote that “God gives grace for the situation, not the imagination.” I need to remember that more often. Thanks for another great post!

  • A Sister In Christ

    I cannot fully articulate how much peace this post has just given me. I have struggled with fear all my life. And it seems that the more I love..the more I fear losing that love until that person and relationship has become an idol to me.

    After losing several I loved in horrible ways, I was tormented with fear. And when others would tell me..”but you serve God, this evil will not happen to you…read the Bible and have peace” I would inevitably read about someone having something horrible happen to them. Just last night I was falling asleep and half dreamed I would die. I was worried about my Babies and my Husband. I have tried to control this by making “plan B”..but their isn’t one for when I am gone.

    I have been angry and tormented by these fears…but you just crystalized this for me. Yes, IN MY IMAGINATION AND FEAR..GOD IS ABSENT. BUT WHEN I GO THROUGH IT IN REAL LIFE HE IS THERE.

    And the truth will set you free and you will be free indeed.

    Oh what victory we have in Jesus! I can attest that even living through a loved ones suicide…there is a peace and love and comfort that the Lord gives that is so amazing that it is a witness to others.

    Thank you for this. I cannot tell you what a horrible huge chain..that I wrapped around myself unknowingly, that you have helped throw off of me. Thank you God for answering this horrible question that has tormented me so long.

    Amen!

  • I have done that so often throughout my entire life it seems. Thank You for this post. I recently listened to a sermon by John Piper on biblical womanhood from 1 Peter 3, and he talked a lot about “do not be frightened by any fear”, and that the reason the godly woman isn’t afraid is because she “hopes in God”. Since then, I have not been nearly as paranoid as I usually am! Praise the Lord! But I still seem to run scenarios through my head like you described…undisciplined…not trusting…fearing…sigh… This was a very helpful post.

  • Yochanah

    Here is a song I love to sing that portrays this very thought. It is sung by Scott Krippayne. Enjoy and let Our Father embrace you as you listen! Praise Yah for He is always faithful! Here is the link to the song… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BMIJHZSavo

  • Han

    Thank you Mrs P; this one’s a real blessing :)

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