By Shon Williams
I had an irrational fear of peanut butter. I am not allergic and I have never experienced any adverse side effects from eating it, but I was afraid of it. Truthfully, it was really the calories in the peanut butter I feared. While I had struggled with an eating disorder, that was at least 5 years prior. I could eat pizza with my son without the internal calculator adding up fat grams. I didn’t plan how many push-ups it took to burn off each meal or grab at my skin praying I would just disappear. I weighed myself, but irregularly and allowed the scale fluctuate up and down with the ebb and flow of life. For the most part, I paid little attention. But then there was peanut butter. I wouldn’t taste a single drop. If it got on my hand while making my son’s sandwiches it would be cleaned up, washed off, and put way. I could imagine the creamy indulgence hitting my mouth, but couldn’t push past the anxiety to take a bite. It was just peanut butter.
Fear is unique in the way its roots curl and twist around the heart. Hiding itself amongst the arteries, it threatens to cut off your blood flow if dare to uproot it. Job said “fear and trembling have seized me and made my bones shake (Job 4:14).” It seems as if fear sees the depths of who we are- every weakness and secret sin. Standing tall, it is looming yet shapeless and elusive. Booming through our very being, it is loud yet so quiet we can’t quite hear the deceit in its words. It disguises itself in many forms, but in truth it is one thing- the absence of love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).” Whatever face fear puts on can be traced back to a place where the love of God has been shut out. It is evidence of an area that has not been “made perfect in love”.
I thought I had allowed God to fill the dark chasm of fear inside my heart created by my eating disorder. I had come to the place where I realized, with certainty that my joy could only be found in Christ. In my heart I knew I would never be able to justify my sins through self-denial and control. My behavior and habits appeared to adjust to these truths. But then again, there was the peanut butter. It silent begged me to re-examine my heat. Here’s the thing about fear; it’s a spirit. 2 Timothy 1:7, tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Fear is a spirit that lacks substance and power, but it is by its nature deceptive. I thought knowledge could rescue me from its grasp, but in Ephesians 3:19 Paul prays that we should come to know “the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
The heart is deceitfully wicked above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and my heart wanted to believe the little bit of light I had let in fixed all my problems and I could take it from there. I may have withered some roots, but I did not remove them. In fact, I allowed myself to treat a symptom, while the sickness manifested in other ways. Fear would strike me in the form of mild panic attacks while driving. What if another driver sideswiped me? It crept into my relationships. What if they don’t really care about me or like me all that much? With my son, fear constantly questioned my parenting and my ability to keep him safe. There was truly a thriving root system entangled in every area of my life. The absence of love was so critical I would sometimes sit among the crowd in church and wonder if I needed to say the Salvation prayer and I would think maybe my baptism “didn’t take”. I felt increasingly spiritually sick as I continued to uncover what the peanut butter had signified. No matter how overwhelming, I couldn’t grab hold of it. Despite the aggressive taunts that played repetitiously, my retorts simply echoed in the void against the fear. I felt disconnected from the heart of God.
There is hope for all of us who struggle with fear. Whether it takes the form of addiction, insomnia, mental illness, or any other facade fear doesn’t have to win in our lives. Let me be very clear and intentional as I say this. Hope does not discount the struggle. By saying there is a way out, I am not minimizing the anguish caused nor the feeling of entrapment. For a time I was angered by suggestions that I could pray my way out of fear and anxiety. I watered the roots of fear and boasted of their depth and strength. In pride, I rejected any idea that I could do something to make it stop, because I feared I was to blame for the dire state I was in. It was a vicious cycle of torment; one that couldn’t be solved with five steps and a prayer. But it could be overcome.
It was only by recognizing that I had nothing to justify or defend that I could begin to untangle myself from fear. 1 Peter 5:6-7 reads, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Fear had made me selfish. I was always looking inward and judging those around me. Losing sight of who I was in Christ, I had abandoned my knowledge of God’s unfailing love for me. Freedom from fear requires submission to God; it is the only way to allow His love back in to the depths of who we are. Simon Peter, one of the twelve Disciples of Christ, was famed for his fear and denial of Christ. After His resurrection, Christ didn’t abandon Peter in His sin and Peter didn’t allow his failures separate him from God. At the first opportunity Peter hightailed it back to Christ. John 21:7-8 says that upon recognizing Christ on the shore, Peter plunged into sea and made his way toward the shore while the others paddled back in their boats. That desperation to get to God loosened the grip fear had on him. Being forever and unchangingly faithfully, Christ’s love was cemented in Peter’s heart and casted out the fear that had overtaken him (John 21:15-19).
David said “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears (Psalms 34:4).” The specific details of our individual journeys might look different, but they will always require us to seek God. Where that will take us, is beyond my limitations. I do know, it is amazing; beyond what we could ask or even think. There is a handcrafted destiny created just for you. We are each, individually, “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).” There is nothing we have to do to earn righteousness in Christ or access our destiny except to come with a heart open His love. Don’t let anything stop you from living in the fullness of God’s love. Anything you think you might lose is nothing in comparison to the peace God offers. “[He] is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV).” You just have to let Him.