When Fear Shows Up
Scary Scurrying Creatures
It came scurrying across the counter towards me. Swift. Hairy. Dark. This large, nasty rat was coming straight for me. Terrified I turned to run and scrambled to get on the counter at the opposite end of the room. Lightning quick the beast was upon me. To my horror it leaps. Landing on my torso I shout, and flail my arms to get it off me. It's at that moment that I realize, this is not a rat. It's a badger. A small, dark grey stripped badger. Slightly less terrified at its non rat-ness, but still mortified that it is now on me, I squeeze it by the neck and throw it to the ground, but not before its eyes lock on mine and for a moment I think, "it's kind of cute." It hits the ground hard, maybe too hard, but also not hard enough. Because, well, this thing was on me. Wasting no time the creature bounces back to its feet, unfazed by the fall, and wastes no time in charging me again, leaping confusingly high off the ground, and landing on my chest just below my chin. This time I freeze. Too terrified to try and peel it off again. I stare at it, unwilling to make any sudden moves. It inches up my chest, like how my boys used to do when they were infants, looking for a cuddle spot under my chin. Again I stare in its face, again struck by its unanticipated cuteness. Then, against all reason, I reach down and pet the creature. I stroke its fur and stare at its eyes. It snuggles up further, its whiskers brushing my beard. I smile.
And then I wake up.
Yes, the above story was a dream I had a couple nights ago. I tend to recall a lot of my dreams the next day, but quickly forget them or move on. But this one stuck with me, and two things stand out.
I'm about to get my Freud on.
Misidentifying Your Fear
Here's the thing, I discovered two years ago that I have an unreasonable fear of rats. We had this season in our rental home that involved an infestation of rats, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. Every night I would lay in bed, wide awake, eyes staring straight up and ears trained on every single tiny noise. Convinced they would inevitably scurry across the floor, up our bed, under the covers and... I don't know, on my face? Bite me? Eat me? Who knows. But the fear was real, people.
So in my dream when I saw this furry creature scurrying at me even though its proportions were all wrong to be a rat I was still convinced it was one. And aren't our fears like that sometimes? We see them in places where they have no business being. We ignore the evidence to the contrary and insist on their presence.
Take, for instance, the fear of flying. Which I don't have, but know people who do. And as we all know, flying is very, very safe. All the statistics tell you things like how you're more likely to die in the car on the way to the airport than you are hurtling through the sky in a hunk of metal at 600 mph. But that won't make a dent in the fear of someone terrified to fly.
When we fear something we will insist that it is real and it is deserving of our panic. This may not be true for things like fear of flying, or fear of heights, or fear of rats. But I think that laying behind a lot of our fears are underlying fears of failure. Fears of being rejected. Fears that we aren't going to be enough. These sorts of fears often drive us to shrink. To contract. To refuse to live in to the God-given invitation to expand and grow and give ourselves away. I wonder what would happen if we can get behind and under our surface level fears and identify what's at the core, because then we can actually start the process of moving towards love: love for God, love for self, and love for others. Like John once said, love is the patronus for fear. But if we insist on seeing rats, when really it's a badger, we won't get anywhere.
Sitting With It
Then, once we've correctly identified what the actual fear is, I think part of how we begin to overcome it is through sitting with it. Or, as in the case of the badger, letting it sit on us! This is the process of choosing not to run from the creature, and choosing not to fight the creature (because if your fear is anything like the badger in my dreams it will just keep coming back, indifferent to your attacks).
But sitting with the feelings of "what if I fail," and "what if I'm not good enough" eventually allows us to absorb them fully in all their angsty weight, and discover the truth of what's on the other side: you'll be okay.
These fears won't crush you.
The Spirit of the God who raised Jesus is in you, and that Spirit is greater than the powers of this world. And that Spirit wants you to just let it snuggle on up your chest and lay in the sweet spot between your shoulder and neck.
You are accepted. And You are enough.
And if even if you do fall short of achieving something, this makes no impact on either of these two realities.
So the next time you start to get all panicky, and you see what you are convinced is a giant rat coming straight at you, choose to stop and ask, "is this really a rat, or is something else going on?" And then don't run, don't fight, just be... and know you are loved. And let that reality of Love drive out the fear for you.
Anyways, that's what I got out of my dream about the rat-badger who attacked me.
Now, if I can figure out why I keep losing my teeth in most of my dreams...