For the last couple months, my oldest has been dealing with a new fear of the dark. He’s the one who’s always been our good sleeper. He started his streak of sleeping through the night early on as a newborn. But now, he’s asked for an extra prayer before he pulls his covers up to his chin. He put a Lego-made cross on his headboard to remind him Jesus is with him. Whenever I ask him how he slept the next day, he says, “Good,” but he felt afraid. With a furrowed brow and half-frown, he’s asked, “Why do I still feel so afraid when I ask God every night to take the fear away?”
As a mom, I want to rush in and fix my children’s problems. Though I reject fears for myself, I offer my kids black and white answers and platitudes. It’s difficult to loosen my grip and let them walk through hard things, including this season of heightened fear for my oldest. Because it’s more than a fear of the dark, after all. I want to know they are going to come out okay on the other end of hard seasons and questions. Watching my son surrender to our “goodnight, sleep-tights” unsatisfied with his portion of felt-courage, reminds me of my own long history of fears. Nightmares and darkness were just the beginning of a long line of oppressors who held me back from rising up to who God made me to be.
When I was in elementary school I watched the movie The Neverending Story. For all I loved about the movie, there were three things in the story that terrified me: Gmork, The Nothing, and most of all: Artax sinking in The Swamp of Sadness. For those of you who haven’t watched the movie, Artax is Atreyu’s (one the main characters) beloved horse. In one scene Artax ends up in the middle of a swamp and begins to sink. Atreyu calls out for him and tells him to move, but he doesn’t. No matter how hard Atreyu pulls at his reigns and begs him to get out, he keeps sinking and sinking. It’s awful. I tensed up during this scene and yelled along with Atreyu, crying and undone with the outcome.
The sinking scene left me shaking within and without, not only because of the loss of Artax, but because it told me there were things in life so weighted with fear and despair that all hope could be lost. No matter how I pleaded at the television and cried for Artax, nothing happened. He kept sinking.
I found my own small swamps of sadness just a few years after watching this movie.
After numerous moves that took us all over the country, out of the country and back again, our last move as a family took us from California to Indiana. To me, Midwestern America was foreign. In it, I was “other,” and my response was to hide. I pulled my own covers of compliancy, comparison, fear, and shame up over as much of me as possible. I squashed parts of me that felt different or untamed. My strategy was to diminish my presence and mute my voice to avoid drawing attention to what made me different.
I remember sitting in high school French class a year after our move. My French teacher was talking about the value of learning other languages and cultures and I sat slouched over at my desk, avoiding eye-contact, while hanging on every word she said. She asked the class if anyone there had ever lived overseas. My heart started to beat faster. I hoped my cheeks hadn’t given me away as I looked down at my French workbook and wrapped my pencil tightly with my right palm. And then I realized I had my hand up, pencil still clutched. I didn’t hold it up high, but it was up; I hoped she saw it and hoped she didn’t see it.
She asked me, “Doesn’t living overseas completely change you?”
I shrugged, indicating it hadn’t changed me at all, and when I did this I felt my heart sink, stuck. My French teacher didn’t know it, but when she asked me that question, she gave me a chance to rise up and be known. I longed for her to ask me again. Would I ever rise up beyond the weights and authentically speak out for all that was true and unique and beautiful about my own story? Why was I so afraid of myself?
But in time, another voice called out for me. At first I heard it through the voices of others: an invitation from a friend to a church youth group, a friend’s desire to know my Korean side, through words during worship, and later through the pages of my Bible. Over time, I began to recognize that through all of these voices, there was one voice that had been calling me to rise up and keep rising, no matter how afraid I was, no matter how ashamed I had once been. The more I listened to it, the louder it was and the more I believed it came from a place of Love and Truth. It was the voice of One who knew what it was like to be filled to the brim with sadness and dread. He pleaded with his Father to take his suffering away while sweating drops of blood in agony. Jesus faced the darkest of all darkness: Death and its ultimate defeat. But unlike Artax, he rose up out of every Swamp of Sadness. His voice, the voice of The One and Only Risen King, is the one who beckoned me and still beckons me to rise up. To become and keep becoming the woman he has made me to be.
I will keep telling my little warriors and myself the truth. I can’t take away the fear; it may never go away. But they can find strength in the One who has defeated every dark night.
I will tell them I was once too afraid to come out of hiding, embarrassed by my dark, thick head of hair and confused by my mixed skin. I will tell them I had days when I wanted to hide my appetite for spicy street food; or the parts of my story that smelled like dried squid roasting in our suburban fireplace. I will explain how I wanted to hide the other worlds I had experienced and how they changed me forever.
So many of us hide. So many of us are afraid and in danger of sinking. Instead of rising, we flap and flail, grounded in our own swamps of comparison, discontent, fear, insecurity, pride, jealousy, anger, brokenness or striving.
Sisters, it’s time to stop hiding. Our Risen King calls us out in love. Do you hear Him calling? It’s time to rise up true to be the woman God has made you and is making you to be. It’s time to do this together, one morning after the next, women who rise up out of every swamp to claim our stories of bravery and belief.