I didn’t sleep last night. I’ve been housesitting for the past few days and I’m extra cautious when I’m staying alone. I’m pretty predictable: The first night I get used to the surroundings and sleep pretty lightly, the next night I settle in and sleep better, and by night three I’m completely out, dreaming I could stay forever.
Yesterday was night four, and I was significantly more scared than the other nights. It’s not that I feel particularly threatened in this neighborhood—it’s full of young families and gentle elderly folk. It’s not even that the house is unsafe—I have an alarm to set before bed which will immediately notify police should anyone enter.
But as I lay awake at about 2:30 AM last night I realized a funny pattern: In living situations where I’m probably the most secure, I often feel the most afraid.
Growing up I was instilled with a lot of fear masked as “caution.” While basic caution is wise, excessive caution is code for fear. I’m always on the lookout for something bad to happen, always trying to protect myself by staying one step ahead. It’s exhausting.
I think trying to protect yourself from everything you’re afraid of ultimately breeds more fear—threats are as endless as your imagination. Since I’m a creative writer, there are more things for me to worry about in one night than could ever happen in a lifetime.
So last night—even though I had locked all the doors and set the alarm—I had to worry about an intruder shutting off the power to the house and disabling the alarm and phone lines, a crazy cult leader and his wife who inevitably snuck in while I took the dog outside for her last potty break and were about to kidnap me as their newest bride, the murderer who wouldn’t mind the alarm because I’d be dead by the time police arrived… and many more.
I knew these fears were ridiculous, but I didn’t feel completely safe from them all. And the truth is, although highly unlikely, any one of those scenarios—technically—could happen.
But I’ve slept well alone in a home with just a simple lock, where the nearest house wasn’t for miles, and where the only “security” was a friendly Labrador who wouldn’t dream of attacking.
So how could I sleep peacefully in a situation like that and yet not at all in a quiet neighborhood with police on standby?
I believe it’s because I don’t rely on God to protect me in the relatively safe situations—I put my trust in the security system and go to bed. And then when it’s dark and I’m tired, my creative mind runs with all the ways that “security” could fail. There’s no stopping my imaginary threats.
Never mind that the God of the universe is watching over me. Never mind that He will never fail me.
Verse after verse came to me last night. Promises God was asking me to hold onto instead of my fear. I scribbled them in my journal:
I will fear no evil, for you are with me. -Psalm 23:4b
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him and he delivers them. -Psalm 34:7
You hem me in, behind and before. You have laid your hand upon me. -Psalm 118:6
A horse [or alarm system] is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him. -Psalm 33:17 & 18
No wonder my heart is glad and I rejoice; my body rests secure. You will not abandon me to the grave. -Psalm 16:9
With each verse, God’s peace would comfort me for a moment; but fear came crawling back, striking a chord in my heart and ricocheting through my entire body until I was paralyzed. Some Christian I am—God is promising to protect me and I still can’t trust Him!
My fear of this alarm system not being enough to protect me seemed like a perfect opportunity to sow a seed of faith. So I did the last thing I wanted to do and disabled the alarm.
I jumped back into bed expecting to be rewarded with complete peace. Instead, I was more terrified than before, more in tune to every noise, feeling completely vulnerable. In my mind I walked the perimeter of the house over and over again, door by door, trying to remember if I’d locked them all.
15 minutes passed and I started to crumble. Lord, it’s not bad if I turn the alarm back on, right? It’s just wisdom. I mean, I trust you to do what you say, but you could totally use an alarm system to scare someone off…
He spoke to my heart: Sure, you can turn it back on; but you won’t be any safer than you already are.
I froze. I had permission to do what I believed would comfort me, but if I truly believed my good, protective Father, why would I need anything else? And if I set the alarm once more because I admitted I didn’t believe Him, what kind of daughter would that make me?
Ok, but You better have my back! I told God. I even tried to manipulate Him into protecting me. I wrote down all these verses in my journal, so if anything happens to me they will see that You promised to protect me tonight. For Your name’s sake You’ve got to keep me safe. Otherwise You’ll look bad.
I honestly don’t know how God puts up with me. At 3:30 AM I tried my very best to fall asleep and laid down near my journal open to the Psalms I’d just written, repeating the words I could remember in my head.
After about 30 more minutes on this rollercoaster of anxiety and peace, God had another word: Staying up all night won’t protect you either.
He really wanted me to rest in the fact that He alone is my Protector and Refuge! But I just couldn’t, and I felt horrible.
More mental exploration. What’s going on? I love God, I have hope of eternal joy with Him and therefore I’m not afraid to die. If I did survive some horrific event, I have already seen from experience that God is true to His promise and uses all things for good. So whether I’m annihilated or narrowly escape death with tons of battle wounds, I know I’d be ok.
So why was I so afraid?
When I really thought about it, I came to the conclusion that I’m afraid of being frightened. I’m terrified of how petrifying it would feel to be in any of those made up situations. Since I’m both creative and empathetic, simply by playing a scenario in my head I feel what it would be like to actually live it. (In case you were looking for proof creatives are crazy, allow me to be exhibit A, B, and C.)
Sure, it’s totally healthy to experience fear in terrifying instances. But taking on fear before it’s even happened is ridiculous, exhausting, and life-sucking.
I’d really hoped I would be able to wrap up last night’s fear fest with a pretty little bow (i.e. peaceful sleep!), but this fear of experiencing terror is much more deeply rooted than I’d realized. My head was wired and I never fell asleep after it all.
I’m committing to spend this groggy day in prayer about the fear that snatched my rest last night and will definitely do it again if it’s not dealt with.
I’m not sharing this post because I think anyone reading this struggles with fear as severely as I do—I learned a couple years ago that most people can’t relate to my deeply ingrained, fairly irrational fears. But I’m hoping this post will be something I can point back to later and say, “Look what God has rescued me from! Look how far we’ve come!” And if you’re on this journey with me, I hope you’ll be able to see the difference too.
And—man—do I pray I sleep tonight.