Fire and Fear

After setting the forest on fire, my world changed. It was a simple chore: place garbage in the barrel behind the workshop, light match, wait until fire burns out…wait. I forgot that last bit. I was maybe 12 years old, and I needed to get back in the house—the summer sun burned my bare feet; the drought made the dust cling to my skin; the flames singed my face; and Saturday morning cartoons weren’t over yet. So I left the fire to burn inside the barrel.

One ember, however, trailed across the grass to the trees that surrounded our rural home. In minutes, flames shot up pine and leaped to oak until acres were raging with angry fire. The day was a loss. Madness ensued, but in the end the fire was contained.

That night is when my life changed. A thunderstorm blew at the remaining embers in the darkness, and my father went out in the wind to check on the possibility of a reignited fire. After ten minutes he had not returned, so I walked to the edge of the woods, bare feet burning in the ash. The dark was thick, and terror entered my young body as I stumbled into the forest. I had to find Dad.

Seconds passed like hours and a clap of thunder evoked my flight-not-gonna-fight system. I turned and bolted in the dark but ran into something hard, something strong, something with arms that surrounded me. My father was standing right behind me. He picked me up and carried me inside. I will never forget that feeling of my face crashing into his chest and the strength of his love that cast out all the fear I was holding. I melted.

Sometimes this is a picture of what our lives feel like. The world is raging both outside and within us. Dreams are dashed. Day after day becomes year after year and before long we experience little more than drudge after drudge. Illness frightens and weakens us or those we love. Our children first learn about runny noses and scratched knees, followed by friendship drama, stitches, and one day broken hearts, job losses, and sometimes even death. The fire spreads through the forest of our families without mercy.

Then one day we wake up and the fire feels contained. A breath. A flower. A sunny day. For a moment the world resembles what it was intended to be. But before we can relax, the forecast once again starts to look grim. Almost from nowhere the lights go out around and within. We relax, and it seems the world jumps us from behind.

Just when we break, however–knowing we have no control, no strength, no ability to move on–we crash into the chest of—and are surrounded by the arms of—our Father. He’s been there all along but while trying to hold everything together, to remain in control, to feel like we don’t need help, we forget He’s there. We brace ourselves in the wind, squint for a glimmer of light in the dark, cry out when the fire laps toward us, and beat at the waves when torrential rain threatens to drown us. And fear begins to cast out our remembrance of love.

I want to remember even in this darkest of storms, that it is love that casts out fear, not the other way around. And I want to be so surrounded by such love that fear has no power to weaken the truest intent of our Father that compels us to live without fear, to know healthy dependency, and to be filled with abundance.

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