Perfect Love

Fear is a faithless friend, one I have known all too well. Some days it is nothing more than a twinge of concern that lingers a little longer than needed. Other days, I have found myself in a full-blown battle. Hot panic whips through my mind at the slightest provocation, and I find myself working through every imaginable what if in order to restore a sense of safety and control in light of whatever circumstances life has brought my way. 

I don’t want to be afraid.

I know I don’t need to be afraid.

I can’t help being afraid.

The thoughts swirl like a windstorm inside my brain. 

I didn’t realize just how much we are wired for self-protection, even with involuntary responses, until I went to have an MRI for a knee injury several years ago. I had just settled myself on the movable bed of the large MRI machine when the technician handed me a pair of headphones and asked me my music preference. With only five options, I chose the one I disliked the least and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible on the hard table.

The room was cold and the lights were too bright, but seeing that I was just having imaging done on my knee, initially I wasn’t too unsettled. I put the headphones over my ears, closed my eyes, and readied myself for the loud noise the technician told me I would hear. The humming gaining in speed and volume, the table began to move forward with small, jerking movement into the machine. My eyes popped open. I looked down the length of my body, watching as the large round frame of the MRI tunnel covered my body.

Then, it happened.

Waving my hands back and forth above my head, I shouted, “Hey! Hey!” I wasn’t just lightly signally, casually waving, or sending a high five. I was swinging my arms fully stretched to their length from one side to the other. I was determined to be seen.

“Yes?” The voice of the technician calmly came over the intercom.

“How much further are you going to put me in?” I could feel the panic in my voice, even as I tried in vain to sound more relaxed than I felt. Surely, the technician and I could talk this out and find a more comfortable setting, one that didn’t involve me going in any further than I already was. I wanted to decide. I needed to choose. 

Eventually, I settled back on the bed, closed my eyes, and prayed my way through the remainder of the MRI. That day, however, uncovered another layer of my long battle with fear: I wasn’t going to win the battle by convincing myself not to be afraid.

I didn’t expect to be fearful. I wasn’t afraid of elevators, I don’t mind flying in planes, and I can generally handle tight spaces though I don’t love them. Even in that moment, I knew I could get off the movable bed if I needed to. I wasn’t strapped in. It wasn’t like my whole body had to be in the machine. But try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was becoming more and more trapped. 

Only the presence of Christ could change me. 

But therein was part of the problem. I had to stop blaming myself. Over time, I have learned how to trust the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, to hear the assurances of God that He is near. Fear still comes, but it doesn’t get to stay. 

Years ago I would face any battle with fear by rehearsing these words over and over: Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon You (Isaiah 26:3). Then with every bit of willpower I could muster, I would repeatedly try to keep my mind from gravitating toward thoughts that fed the fear. And over and over, I would get exhausted. 

I wish I could remember the day, the conversation I had with the Lord, but I don’t. I just know that somewhere in there, I realized that I had been quoting only part of the scripture. What I had been missing in the scripture was the root of what I was missing in my struggle with fear: I didn’t trust God.

I wanted to trust Him.

I knew I should trust Him.

But I had to stop punishing myself in order to learn how to do so. I had to learn how to be okay with the process, and I had to let God love me where I was at in my struggle, instead of expecting Him to love me when I arrived where I wanted to be.

Trust and love are inextricable (1 John 4:18). While my fears may be irrational at times, it is just as irrational to expect myself to be perfect in order to be able to approach God for what I need. I am loved, and because I am loved, I can find the kind of peace that comes from knowing He can be trusted (Isaiah 26:3).

In the wise words of one of my students, “I am not where I want to be, but I’m not where I used to be.” With every victory has come a greater understanding of the faithfulness of God. Now, when fear creeps at the corners of life, hedges its bet against God’s goodness with a flank attack, or brazenly rushes in full frontal attack with the greatest of uncertainties, I have learned these truths:

Life will continue to give me reason to feel vulnerable, and in my humanity, I will be tempted to self-protect. Fear, however, will never be a trusted counselor, and control will never keep me safe. Only God can send the peace that defies circumstances. Only He will ever be enough. Only perfect love can conquer fear.

—Written by Regina Franklin. Used by permission from the author.