I lie in my bed and sigh. It is 1:30 a.m. I am stuck at that place in between deep slumber and peak awareness; a state in which I am so close to falling asleep but my thoughts just won’t let me. They start out as simple what-I-have-to-do-tomorrow thoughts but quickly evolve into things-I-would-never-think-about-in-the-daylight thoughts— like the fact that I am almost halfway done with my college career but still don’t have the slightest clue what I’d like to do next, or where I’d like to go. Do I want to go home? Do I want to stay here? What if I’m not good enough to stay here? What if God wants me to go home? What if I don’t want to? These unanswered questions first simply wandered around my head innocently, like strangers that pass me everyday on the streets.
But my nightly visitors–innocent as they seem–continue to disturb my sleep, and surely enough, start to shape my days. I snooze two of my three alarms and wonder, what would I have achieved if I hadn’t slept in those extra 20 minutes? I bring two pencils to my midterm and wonder why I didn’t bring a third, just in case they both broke. I leave office hours and think about how stupid all my questions were, even if the purpose of my visit was to ask stupid questions. I watch a Gilmore Girls episode as I eat dinner and wonder whether I should be consuming more intellectual matter in my free time. I sleep early while wishing I could work through the night. And as I get back into my bed, and my thoughts come to visit me, I fall asleep worrying, and wake up in a deep sense of anxiety. The cycle continues.
I wonder why people worry, why I worry, and I’ve come to realize it is because my body somehow believes my anxiety is productive. Somehow, I have deluded myself into thinking that worrying has become an important part of my survival mechanism- an integral component that will allow me to fight instead of flee. Worrying forces me to be more alert and thus think smarter, work harder, and essentially, be better. But you see, worrying only works on the basis of fear–the fear that we are not good enough; that we must constantly be doing more. Thus, to live a life of worry is to live a life based on fear.
On the outside, I don’t seem like the biggest worrywart. Yet, there is still this fear within me, one that I am deeply ignorant of. Though I was aware of it, I believed it would serve a good purpose; a motivation for me to keep striving for the better. What I have forgotten, however, is that when we leave even the tiniest door open, we provide the opportunity for an attack. The Bible tells us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1
My midnight visitors come crawling back on one Tuesday night when I had been feeling particularly exhausted. I climb into bed, absolutely ready to get my rest. But as I close my eyes, the thoughts of my uncertain future did not just wander, they attacked. Suddenly, I feel as if a huge burden had been placed on top of my chest. I open my eyes and try to breathe normally but but all I can think about is the fact that I simply could not move. My wrists and ankles feel like they had been chained to the bed. My midnight visitors do not seem so innocent now, for now they are not just whispers but screams in my head. Fear had literally gripped me.
As I write this, a scripture comes to mind, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” 2 Beside my bed I have a framed painting from my grandmother. She has painted Jesus and written out a scripture above his head–“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 3 The truth is that He has commanded me to not fear, to not be dismayed. He has even placed a blatant reminder beside me. But I have failed Him. I have failed to acknowledge His role in my life as my Father who has carved out the best path for me, as I have before, time and time again. And as a result, I have allowed fear to rule my life instead.
What strikes me, however, is that this attack was in my subconscious, where I am at my most vulnerable state. It’s funny–when I think about the devil attacking, what first comes to my mind are larger catastrophes, like hurricanes or tsunamis. We never think he would choose those quiet moments to pounce. Paul reminds us in Ephesians that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 4
Thankfully, we are not meant to fight this spiritual battle alone. We must surround ourselves with those who will speak His truth and love until we understand that we have nothing to fear. He has conquered it all. I have those who will even shout His truth to me in the times I can only hear lies, and I am thankful for them. I know at the end of the day, my Father loves me, and I take comfort in knowing that He will fight for me to know His love in whatever way that will reach me.
That night, God reached me through a Bethel song. “I’m no longer a slave of fear,” the song goes, “I am a child of God.” The simple reminder of my identity in Him–a daughter of the most powerful Father–was enough to release me from the grips of fear that night. But as I continued to listen to the song, I realized He had more to say to me. “You split the sea so I could walk through it/ My fears were drowned in perfect love.” God reminds me: My love alone is more than enough to lift you above your anxieties, dear Brea! I smiled, before breathing a deep, deep sigh of relief, and fell asleep.