When I was a child it didn’t take much to scare me. I was scared of the dark, the woods after dark, the family dog (the meanest dog you’d ever meet), Freddy Kruger (thanks to my older brothers), and vampires (thanks to my best friend). I remember very clearly, when together my best friend and I had a knack for getting into all sorts of mischief. We snuck into her uncle’s bedroom and stole a VHS of a vampire movie and watched it. The movie was my first introduction into the realm of horror movies and I thought it was real life, which serves me right for distinctly taking something that did not belong to us. I didn’t know much about these monsters but I knew that they could hurt me and I was scared.
The next night, I sat in my room well after bedtime with the lights off because I was supposed to be asleep, in a panic. I sat there back and head pressed against the wall with my neck wrapped with the afghan my grandma had knitted me. I can still feel the scratchiness of the yarn against my skin as I reminisce about this situation. I was too scared to risk letting myself fall asleep though I was exhausted.
In the dark, the curtains turned into faces, the shadows became vampires. I kept my whole body wrapped so very tightly in the covers to prevent anything from creeping in from under the bed. I had so many layers on that I could feel the sweat dripping down my back. Did I mention this was in August? And I just sat there rocking back and forth humming “Jesus loves me this I know” to calm myself down. Every so often I would send out a frantic prayer to God searching for help, desiring his protection from all the unknown monsters that lurked in the dark.
But then I saw some lights outside my window. My big brother, Erick, was home from his date with his girlfriend. I always felt safe when Erick was around just like I did with my father. They were the only ones in our nuclear family that made me feel safe and protected from all that scared me. He was 16 at the time and I wasn’t quite 10 yet. I heard Erick unlocking the backdoor and come into the house. I heard his heavy footsteps all the way down the hallway. But I didn’t hear his door close behind him to his room.
Instead I saw my door slowly open and the light being turned on. He came in and quietly sat down on the bed next me, made me unwrap my head, neck, and body and he gently asked me what was wrong. So I confided in him what I had done, what I had watched, and that I now feared that the monsters of the night were real, that they would certainly kill me the moment I let my guard down and fell asleep.
That night my big brother was more patient then I had ever seen him be with me in day light hours. He laughed a little and explained that these were just works of fiction made up for “stupid” teenagers like him to enjoy that nothing was going to hurt me. I fell asleep with him there watching over me that night finally feeling that sense of security that I so longed for.
We don’t only fear the works of our over active imaginations in the dark as children, but we struggle with similar fears throughout life. Trusting in God throughout life, despite our fears, is perhaps the greatest challenge we face as believers. Charles Spurgeon put it succinctly when he said, “To trust God in the light is nothing, but to trust him in the dark—that is faith”.1 Our fears change as we age. Our fears may be based upon real-life monsters that plague our lives like: illness, loss of abilities, death, financial upheaval, relationship struggles, or loneliness. Many times, we battle against our fears of the unknown and more importantly not knowing if we will be strong enough to weather troubles that may or may not happen. Sometimes the fear of the unknown begins to creep from the night time into our waking hours making it hard for us to make decisions or to find meaning in life. It makes us struggle to place our trust in God completely and fully knowing that God will provide for us when the time comes.
Philemon is a very interesting letter just for that purpose. It is short but helps Onesimus deal with his fears learning trust in the love of Christ and that it will surpass the anger and fury of humanity. Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon’s and Paul was asking Onesimus to voluntarily walk back into a situation which would have resulted in whipping and facial branding at the very least and death at the worst. Onesimus had legitimate fears. This is the whole reason for Paul’s letter. He uses his letter as a way to help Onesimus who found comfort, trust, and safety in the teachings of Christ. He relied on Paul for help and in doing so he trusted in Christ’s message of love to guide him through this potentially threatening situation. The Psalms reading for today speaks of God’s faithfulness that we are asked to trust in, “Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether”.2God knows of our deeds good and bad, he knows our fears, our thoughts, our needs before we even speak them in prayer because God is ever present in our lives. We are asked to trust in the goodness of God. We are called to trust God to be our strength as Onesimus trusted in Paul, as Paul trusted in the love and goodness of Philemon, and as I had trusted in the protection and care of my big brother. We need to live into that same trust, that same love for the Lord knowing that God created us, he carefully watches over us, and calls us to trust in his will for our lives. Sometimes we cannot see or understand the reasoning behind our experiences. Sometimes we can’t see past our personal demons to see the hand of God at work. It is in those moments we are called to trust that God is present and we can trust where he leads placing all of our uncertainties, all of our fears into his arms voluntarily walking into an uncertain future with God in the lead.
1 Charles Spurgeon, 19th century theologian and preacher.
2 Psalm 139: 3-4, RSV