Have you ever been so afraid that you struggled to even breathe? So gripped with panic or terror, that you felt you would throw up? The very thought of something paralyzed you, heart racing, thoughts whirring out of control into worst case scenarios?
I’ve been there. More times than I’d like to admit. In fact, I’ve spent more than three-quarters of my life being terrified.
It started when I was a toddler – I acquired an irrational fear of hawks and rats because of some animated children’s movies. Go figure.
I then watched Scooby Doo and became afraid of mummies, vampires, El Chupacabra – Any mythical monster that traipsed the screen, I was convinced it lived in my closet.
Because of an incident that I won’t describe that occurred when I was 11, I became irrationally afraid of home invasions, or “break-ins”. I could not be at home by myself until my junior year of high school.
And then, during sophomore year of high school, I became so terrified of what might happen to me at school that I couldn’t make it past third period (if you haven’t read my testimony, click here.)
Even now, I continue to have horrific nightmares. I woke up from one last night that was so terrible, I started sobbing. I’ve had awful nightmares as long as I can remember, but the ones I have now are a whole new level.
In my waking life, I know what triggers the nightmares. They’re overwhelmingly motivated by the fear of losing the people I most love. It’s a powerful fear. It cripples. I think we all, to some extent, have something that we are terrified to lose. It can be exacerbated by the fact that we’ve already suffered much loss in our lives, and we can’t bear the thought of losing _________, too. Or worse: we already have lost that thing we were afraid to lose, and now we’re struggling to even get through a single day. In that case, the fear becomes so real that it’s crushing. We find ourselves surrounded, wounded, without a thing to defend us but our own broken, weak selves. This is the kind of fear that petrifies.
Let me tell you something that Jesus continues to tell me:
It’s all about trust.
You heard me: trust. Not quite sure? Let’s start with a story:
You all know of Abraham, I hope. The man who God found favor with and first established his covenant with. Even though Abraham and his wife had no children and were long past the age at which procreation is possible, God promises them a son: “and you shall call him Isaac. It is with him that I will maintain my covenant as an everlasting covenant and with his descendants after him.” (Gen. 17:19) So, God clearly promises a son named Isaac, through which there will be descendants and the covenant. Get it? Got it? Good.
Fast forward to “some time afterward”: Isaac, Abraham’s beloved son, is all growed up. The promise was fulfilled, yay! God was true to his word. A son was born from an old barren woman (impossible circumstances), and we know that God is good and faithful to his promise.
Then comes the fateful day when God comes to Abraham and says, Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you. (Gen. 22:2)
Can you even imagine being Abraham right now? Can you feel how his stomach would’ve dropped, how his mouth would’ve dried up, how his heart would start pounding in his ears and he’d become weak at the knees and could barely support himself under the weight of God’s crushing words: offer him up. Your only son. Whom you love. Can you imagine being a parent and hearing this? Go, sacrifice your only beloved son.
But to refuse would be to admit to God that He is not who you love most. If you love God, you do what He says. (John 14:15, 23)
So, what does he do? Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, and after cutting wood for the burnt offering, set out for the place of which God had told him. (Gen. 22:3)
Let’s pause and really put ourselves in his shoes. I can’t even imagine how sick Abraham must’ve felt as he cut the wood – the very wood that would be used to burn his son. It’s a morbid thing, really. It easily paints God as a tyrant. (That’s, of course, what the Devil wants us to think.) Imagine being Abraham, trudging along each day, falling deeper and deeper into despair on this death march.
On the third day Abraham caught sight of the place from a distance. Abraham said to his servants: “Stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over there. We will worship and then come back to you.” So Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke…”Father!…Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:4-7)
If we were watching this in a movie, this line would cause the audience to start crying. Because we know what Abraham knows, but Isaac doesn’t: he’s the burnt offering. And he has no idea. He doesn’t even see it coming. And that’s what makes it worse. I imagine Abraham holding back tears.
“My son…God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” The two walked on together. (Gen. 22:8)
STOP. This is important: Abraham is not lying. No, he is stating his ardent hope. His hope founded on the fact that God promised him Isaac, promised descendants through Isaac, and the fact that God can do impossible things. If God has shown Himself to be true to His word so far, then this would be no exception. Perhaps if God does not provide a sheep instead of his only son, Abraham hopes that, should it come to it, God would have the ability to raise Isaac from the dead. Why? Because God promised. Through Isaac, descendants. And Abraham must hold onto the belief that God will keep His word. Otherwise, what can he hold onto?
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he bound his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar. Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. (Gen. 22:9-10)
Here. Here is the moment of greatest fear. The moment when we cannot put it off any longer, and we must do what we must do: we must say good-bye to a person we love. We must say good-bye to a dream we worked so hard to achieve. We must say good-bye to the comfortable & familiar, turning instead towards the terrifying unknown. And despite our hopes, there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight. We have to do it. There is no other way.
But suddenly –
The angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the angel. “Do not do the least thing to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you did not withhold from me your son, your only one.”
Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. (Gen 22:11-13)
I realize that many who read this post may not be Catholic. I do not write only for Catholics, but when I come across the writings of a holy man or woman, I believe it should be shared with the entire Body of Christ, the whole Church. All can benefit from such edification. At this time, I feel it necessary to quote St. Therese of Lisieux, a French nun who wrote this in 1894:
“Frequently God wants only our will; He asks all, and if we were to refuse Him the least thing, He loves us too much to give in to us; however, as soon as our will is conformed to His, as soon as He sees we seek Him alone, then He conducts Himself with us as in the past He conducted Himself with Abraham.”
Sometimes God asks us to do something scary because He wants to know we love Him enough to give Him everything. And that is enough. The mere fact that we are willing to give Him everything – and do give Him everything, including that which we most love or want – is enough. We hope against hope that He will do what He did for Abraham – return it to us. And very often, He does. Not always. But we keep holding onto the hope that whatever we must give up, will be returned to us – if not the very thing itself, than something much greater. It may be joy ten times over. Even more or better friends. A boyfriend or girlfriend who we’re really meant to be with; not the counterfeit God told us to give up. A more fulfilling job than we could have ever hoped for.
Sometimes the fear of losing something is meant as a signal to us that it’s time to give it up to God, putting it in His hands. Then trust that He will either return it to you, or will bring you something even greater, just like He did for Abraham.
Real life example: a man that I dearly love and care about, a man whom I hope to date, was sent to do God’s work of evangelization in another country. His phone was taken by the ministry and part of his contract is that he cannot pursue me, or even talk to me. I have not seen him in six months, and I won’t have the opportunity to hear from him again for another four at least. I have no idea what’s going on in his life, or how he’s doing, or how he’s being transformed. It’s just a plain reality that I may never see him or hear from him again. Our homes are in separate states that are 1,800 miles apart. He may fall in love with someone else. God may call him to do more international mission work, have him permanently leave the U.S. God may tell him that he shouldn’t pursue a relationship with me, even after he comes home. All of these are legitimate possibilities that cross my mind every single day. For months I lived in perpetual sick-to-your-stomach, nightmare-inducing, sobbing, panic-stricken kind of fear that I would never see him again. But eventually I understood that God was calling me to sacrifice my Isaac. Does that mean that I’ll for-sure get him back as soon as his mission year is over? No. But I still hope against hope. Because God is good. And when I let go of my death-grip, which I used to cling to the things I was afraid to lose, I remember that the young man I desire really belongs to God, not me, and God is good and loving – so no matter what the outcome is, I have no reason to be afraid. Either my Isaac will be returned to me, or God has something much better in store.
All I know is, only trust will give me the peace and hope I need.
Is there anything in your own life that you’re clinging to because you’re afraid to lose it? Consider bringing it before God and asking Him to help you give it up to Him. Then let the peace of Jesus Christ rule in your heart (Colossians 3:15).
Recommended read: 33 Days to Merciful Love by Michael Gaitley
Recommended songs: listen to the Jesus, I Trust in You playlist on Spotify
Recommended prayer: Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.