When Fear Rises

by Hilary Horn

A wonderful post by Lisa Scandrette as we continue our theme, Spirituality of Imperfection —

I stand carefully on the edge of the inlet, feet on plant lined, ocean covered rock. The water is shallow and beckons me in. Yet, I don’t know how to navigate these rocks and the fertile sea garden beneath me. My feet seemed glued in place. Mark holds out a snorkel and invites me again. I want to do this. How can I be at this beautiful place so far from home and pass it up? He says, “Just swim. It’s easier.”

Though this inlet is protected, the powerful sea and the creatures it holds make me feel nervous. “Here, sit by me,” he says. I squat on the rock, unable to submit to the mossy, plant covered surface. He gives me the snorkel and mask. I put it on and peer at my feet, only to see tiny fish swarming where before, though I thought the water was clear, I saw nothing. In seconds, my body doesn’t believe it can breathe and fear rises stronger than my desire to see.

I want to and must do this thing. I squeeze the salt water from my eyes, readjust, and try floating. For a moment, it works and I see a whole underwater world. Then, I taste salt water and panic for air, lifting my face from the water. Mark’s shoulder is nearby. I hold on. Something solid. My body calms. I regroup. Again, I adjust the mask and snorkel and put my face to the water. I repeat this routine a couple more times. I feel childlike and embarrassed by my fear, but I am unable to mask it. Always, Mark’s voice calls when my body panics. Always, his voice steadies me, and his voice tells me I’ll get used to it.

And then, finally, I float. I breathe. I kick my feet gently and see fish, big and little; I see the kelp, sea urchin, little stars and pinkish plants growing on the rocks. My body relaxes and I don’t need to find Mark.

When the time comes for me to hand over the snorkel and give Mark a turn at that thing he loves, I am grateful….grateful for him holding my fear gently and yet not letting it prevent him from reminding me that I can do this. I’m grateful for his firm, steady shoulder. I’m also proud of myself for plunging in in the midst of my fear, for persisting because I did not want to miss this opportunity. Despite everything, I stuck my face in the water, I breathed, I swam, and I saw the fish.

As our kids began college, I felt a similar wave of anxiety surprise me. Sometimes, in the morning I would wake with my heart pounding and my mind swirling, with the visceral feeling that something was wrong. My body felt like I needed to escape. It took time in the beginning of each day to remember that I am not alone, to calm my heartbeat and breathing, and to proceed with my day.

I would rehearse the truths that calmed me….that God was near, that God walked with both me and my kids, and that God would help me through the moments when I felt ungrounded and panicked. And when I felt fear and anxiety rising up, I stopped to rehearse again throughout the day. God did not dismiss my fear or scold me, but rather encouraged me that I could move through it and embrace the very moment that I was in. At the same time, God invited me to notice the beauty in the new and unfamiliar stage of life I was entering. I wanted to embrace this new stage of life with grace, but it didn’t come easily. It took practice, learning a new way to move and breathe into my day. It was gentleness and patience with the process that helped me through my fear to embracing the day. And it was the steady presence of God, inviting me and accompanying me.

I’ve since acclimated more to this new stage. It is more rare to wake up with my heart pounding. And when I do, I can remember that God is near, his shoulder is right there should I need to lift my head out of the rough waters, reorient, and take a deep breath before plunging back in.

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Denise August 30, 2018 - 9:01 am

I so needed to read this … I’m a breast cancer survivor and ImI learning how to live after treatments. Have been afraid of enjoying life..so much has change in the past 16 months..My daughter moved out and on her own for the first time this summer. For the first time since I was 18 I have no children at home …big change!
Thank so much for this …

Lisa October 9, 2018 - 9:02 am

Denise, I am just seeing your comment now. So much change for you! May you come to peace in all the transitions and find supportive people to walk alongside you when the way feels hard.

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