I never used to be afraid of heights. I’ve ridden roller-coasters, flown on the flying trapeze in the circus, stood at the brink of the Grand Canyon, built campfires and perched on the edge of a cliff with my friends, and traversed the high ropes course many times at a family camp—as a teenager and young adult. I never knew how nervous heights made me until I became a mother.
I first noticed this when we took our young family to a historical lookout that I remember visiting many times as a young adult. There is a particular outcropping of rock that I used to climb with my friends; we visited it again with kids in tow, and my head swam at the precipice. Now they’ve installed a sign forbidding climbing, which is just as well; I shuddered to think of my then-three-year-old scrambling around the rocks like a mountain goat. But I recall clambering up there gamely enough as a spry young person, and it never bothered me then. I’m only frightened now by the possibility of harm to my near and dear.
There are so many things to worry about for our children. Personally, I’ve always been frightened by the idea of SIDS. I always breathe a sigh of relief when my babies hit the six-month mark and the risk drops off sharply, statistically speaking. But, of course, they could still die of something else, whether or not I worry about it; and the main reason I don’t spend my days worrying about the prospect of death by some other obscure cause is most likely because I haven’t recently read up on it. (Get thee behind me, Morgellons!)
Fears of the unknown, and fear of the “what-if” factor, are inevitable consequences of loving others. The more people you love passionately, the wider your risk pool for hurt and sorrow becomes. Indeed, opening yourself up to the vulnerability of love is a risky proposition. It would certainly be easier not to embark on any worthwhile endeavor when the prospect of such loss and heartache looms.
C.S. Lewis got it right when he said: “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” We’re not going to find absolute safety and security in this world, and if we try to protect ourselves from hurt, we’d miss out on the pleasures and blessings that go along with the risk.
My solution? I’ve wrestled with this dilemma for many a year. There simply isn’t a way for me to flip the worry switch to “off.” It’s a bit late in life to decide not to have children, simply to spare myself the risk of losing them; and in any case, I’d be firmly in the “better to have loved and lost” camp anyway.
I can look to Scripture for guidance. And of course, the first verse that comes to mind is: Perfect love casts out fear. Strangely enough, I don’t feel particularly encouraged by this verse. When I feel fearful, I struggle with an additional burden of guilt that, not only am I being a wimp, I’m (apparently) not being loving enough either.
What I have striven to do, through much angst and inner arguing, is to determine what is real and act accordingly. What I fear might happen is not reality; it is only a fantasy, and I can’t live my life in fear of darkness and “what-ifs.” The determination to focus on what is real—and what is actually within my control—doesn’t always chase away the gloom, but a good dose of fresh air and sunlight is usually the best antidote to sorrow and shadows.
Photo Credit: First photo graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other photos by Rose Focht.