When I was young I was petrified of storms. I would hide, plug my ears, pretend they weren’t there. Anything to stop the reality. I was told that thunder couldn’t hurt me, but it sure sounded like it could. I was told it was the angels bowling, and although that conjured up a comforting image, the next lightning bolt immediately stole that image away. I am told, although I do not remember, that I was nearly struck by lightning as I opened our old metal refrigerator just as a bolt of lightning entered the house. I was saved, but probably mentally scarred. Maybe that was the nexus of my fear? I had never been in a tornado, but I was convinced each thunderstorm would produce one and take me away.
Fear is a normal reaction built deep within our brains to aid us in our survival. When we feel threatened we either flee or fight. These are normal responses to danger. So, was my fear of storms irrational? Of course I am going to say “no” since we are talking about me. In reality, storms can and do hurt people. So for me, I had to choose to either flee or fight. When I was young I fled from the storm. As I became a young teenager I chose to respond to my fear by fighting. My weapon? Study. I chose to study the weather, and to this day meteorology is a hobby of mine. I now watch the storms, chase the storms, forecast the storms, long to see a lightning storm at night so as to watch the bolts streak in the air. What has changed? Studying that which scared me gave me knowledge enough to allow me to no longer allow storms to scare me. I still have a profound respect for storms and would never challenge one, but I no longer hide when they arrive.
Why do I bring this up? In my scripture reading today I read from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14, the re-telling of the story where Peter attempts to walk on the water: “Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" In the midst of the stormy seas everyone on the boat was scared. They see their friend (Jesus), and being comforted in tbe knowledge that now all is ok, Peter ventures out onto the water. It works for some time, he actually walks on the water while he focuses on Jesus. But at once, when he looks down at the waves, feels the strength of the wind, and realizes he is on top of the water, no longer safely in the boat, he forgets about Jesus in front of him and panics. That is when he sinks.
How often along life’s journey do we allow fear to overcome us? How often do we leave the security of the boat for the unknown, only to become so afraid we feel as if we are sinking? Why did we leave the boat in the first place? We need to remind ourselves of that answer when we feel ourselves sinking. Most of us, myself included, fear the unknown. Change, even if for the better, is not always chosen by us simply because change implies unknown. And if I don’t know about it or understand it I will probably fear it. Like me fearing storms. Once we take the risk, and stay the course (as it were), the unknown becomes known, and we once again feel at peace in our new norm.
A few weeks ago I posted a blog entitled “Can I drive?” wherein I reflected on “control issues”. I guess in someway this would be part 2 of that discussion as the challenge for all of us is how to overcome the unknown; how to challenge ourselves to enter into life when we may (and usually are) at a loss of control. Soon after the planes hit the towers in NYC on that fateful Tuesday morning in September 2001, fire department chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM ran into the towers to assist. He entered the unknown, no doubt overcoming rational fear. He did not leave the towers alive and was later listed as casualty number 1. I mention him because not long ago I came across a prayer he often recited for himself: “Lord, take me where You want me to go; Let me meet who You want me to meet; Tell me what You want me to say, and Keep me out of Your way.”
On our journey through life, how can we challenge ourselves to face the unknown? From where does the strength come? For me, it is family and Jesus. What is it for you? Not sure? Study it, as I did the weather. The less mysterious we are to ourselves, the less fearful of ourselves we will be. And the more I can know myself, the grater strength I will have to fight my fears. Peter studied Jesus and so began to trust in Him. When he lost that trust by forgetting all he had learned, he sank. Use people around you to gain knowledge and faith so we can journey together without sinking.