When Roosevelt said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he clearly had never seen the movie “Attack of the Tree Monsters.”
I saw it when I was three. I remember snuggling in bed between my mom and dad, watching the story unfold on our little 12” black and white TV. We didn’t have Dora or Blues Clues in the seventies, so parents just let their preschoolers stay up late and watch old, scary movies instead.
This one was the king of all scary movies. The tree monsters were exactly what they sound like, guys in rubber tree suits running around eating people, probably lumberjacks. I was totally freaked out.
Scientists will tell you that fear ignites the fight or flight response in all human beings, and that night, my little brain told me I had no choice. Kill or be killed. I chose to fight. I leapt from the bed and attacked the TV, pummeling the screen with my tiny fists like a mini Mohammad Ali.
The tree monsters never stood a chance.
I’ve spent much of my life afraid. When I was a kid, my fears were simpler. I was afraid of the dark, afraid of snakes, afraid of malevolent killer trees. All the usual stuff. As I grew up, though, my fears became more complex. I became afraid of rejection, afraid of failure, afraid of cancer, afraid of financial insecurity and afraid of losing the people I love.
But the biggest difference between my childhood fears and my adult fears is my reaction to them. Whatever happened to that courageous three year-old who brought the smack down on the tree monsters? Instead of facing my fears head on, I’ve learned to avoid them like I would a school bully threatening to give me a wedgie after P.E.
I’ve spent too many years letting the tree monsters in my life get the last laugh. I’ve steered clear of too many hard conversations, passed up too many wonderful risks and worried my way through too many sleepless nights.
What’s up with that? Didn’t I read something once about walking through the valley of the shadow of death and fearing no evil because God walks with me? Is that just one of those things that looks great on a cross-stitch hanging on the wall or do I really believe it?
When I was in high school, my best friend was one of the toughest guys in our class. I never got into a fight because people knew if you messed with me, you were messing with him. And I don’t remember anyone ever wanting to mess with him.
Why should my friendship with God be any different? If God is for you, the Bible says, who can be against you? Who can mess with a guy who makes quasars and black holes? Stack God up next to any of my fears and they look like ten pound weaklings. Yet, I’m amazed at how frequently I leave God out of the equation.
A couple of years ago I spent two weeks waiting on a specialist to interpret some test results from an MRI. They were looking for a brain tumor. I had a two year-old at home and another one on the way. I was eaten up with fear. God seemed small and distant.
During this waiting game I found myself highly motivated to read the Bible. Potential brain tumors can have that effect. I discovered plenty of other folks in the pages of the Bible who had been in the same boat as me, facing gigantic problems while trying to keep faith in a God they couldn’t see or touch. Yet, in story after story, God came through.
That didn’t mean I’d get the test results I wanted, but it did mean God was powerful enough to walk me through whatever I faced. The more I read, the bigger God got. And my fear? My fear diminished.
Eventually, I got good news from the doctor, but in the midst of it all, I got something just as valuable. I got my fight back. I realized that the scariest thing in life isn’t cancer or bankruptcy or tree monsters. The scariest thing in life is wasting it by living as a slave to my fear.