Terror or Trust?
Leaning on God in the midst of fear depends on our preparation.
by Karin Dixon Butler
Sheer terror filled my mind and body. I alternated crying hysterically and gasping in long, shuddering breaths. How did I get on the edge of this cliff? How could I ever get off?
My thoughts raced from a quick trip to eternity to a maimed and broken body. I couldn’t look down. Where were the rescue helicopters? Could anyone even see me or hear my sobbing and cries for help? God, where are You? I need You!
My husband’s voice broke into my thoughts. “You can do this. It’s not as bad as you think.”
“Yes, it is!” I cried. “This is not the trail. All those other people didn’t come this way.” I began my meltdown.
My husband coaxed me on, helping me along the tiny ledge as I leaned closer and closer to the wall of rock. Finally, with one last round of my hysterics, he agreed we had better turn back.
Was that a relief? No. I was certain I could never make it back. Where were those helicopters?
Fear made it almost impossible for me to move. Random thoughts raced through my mind. I wished I had been more understanding when my granddaughter experienced terror on a perfectly safe airboat ride in Florida. I wished I had been more understanding of everyone in my life! Most of all, I wished for rescue helicopters!
I tried to pray and claim strength in Jesus, but the panic was too powerful. An adrenaline junky could only wish for the adrenaline coursing through my body.
Finding the trail
Step by step, with my husband’s calm voice and his hand on me (and a few more hysterics on my part), we made it off the cliff and found the real trail to Delicate Arch. But not before I sat down and sobbed my heart out.
Unfortunately, by the time we got to the arch on the real trail, it was rather anti-climatic, so I couldn’t muster up a lot of enthusiasm. Looking at what many people think is the most beautiful arch in Arches National Park in Utah, I just said, “That’s nice.”
As I hiked along the real trail (plenty wide and not too steep), I wondered how this situation could have been different. Of course, if we hadn’t missed the trail and if my husband hadn’t over estimated my capabilities, I never would have been on that cliff ledge in the first place.
But I had this nagging feeling there was more to it. Why didn’t I trust God to help me? I tried to regain my composure on the edge of the cliff but couldn’t seem to do it. Why not?
I thought back to a couple of months before when I was in a dangerous situation and didn’t panic. I even had the peace of God. No hysterics that day.
My husband and I went to the John Day River to spend a beautiful summer day kayaking. We had paddled the John Day before, and while it isn’t a lazy stream, it was well within the range of my recreational flat water (or thereabouts) skills.
When we got to the river, the wind was blowing hard and the water wasn’t real calm. Still, we felt certain it would be better around the bend and away from the Columbia Gorge. So off we went.
The wind whipped around us, but my husband made some headway. Using my strength and skill, I followed behind.
As we neared the bend, we both realized that the wind not getting better; it was getting worse. Waves lapped up the front and sides of my kayak, dumping water in. No matter how hard I tried, my kayak wouldn’t go forward. We had to turn back.
Against the wind
Now the wind was full force against us. Though I paddled with all my might toward the dock, I couldn’t make any headway. In fact, my kayak went backward, dangerously close to the rocks.
Fear shot through me as I visualized my little kayak dashed upon the unforgiving boulders. Even with my life jacket on, I couldn’t swim in this if it capsized. I was doomed.
I had only one hope. “Jesus! Jesus, help me!” I cried.
Internally, I heard the words Scripture, Scripture. You need to speak God’s Word over your situation and not focus on the wind and waves. Remember the disciples? Remember Jesus stepping in and calming the wind and waves?
I forced the words out “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind” (Philippians 4:13; 2 Timothy 1:7). I repeated these scriptures out loud as I paddled with all the strength I could muster.
Strength and peace
At first, it seemed nothing changed. Then slowly I began to make progress. Hope rose inside me, and I began thanking God and continued claiming strength through His Word.
God gave me not only the strength He promised but also peace. Though the conditions were the worst I’d ever encountered, I had peace and confidence that I would make it back to the dock.
So why didn’t I feel that way on the cliff? Why was terror ruling? Where was God? I desperately needed Him.
After some time, I finally realized that God was in the same place, but I had drifted slightly away. Before the kayaking trip, I had been reading and studying the Bible faithfully and strengthening myself in the Lord.
Every day opportunities to fear presented themselves, and every day I learned to respond with the truths in Philippians and 2 Timothy. So when a big fear tempted me, I knew what to do and had the confidence to believe what God said.
However, leading up to the day of terror, I had focused on getting ready for our vacation and became absorbed in the busyness of life. I had not read the Word and hadn’t felt that strong or close to God. I was living life in my own strength, starving my spirit, and my trust in the Lord was slowly leaking out of me.
So when tempted by fear, I caved easily. Terror reigned from lack of faith caused by my lack of diligence. God was still there, ready and willing to help me (and He did get me off the cliff), but I had no faith in His help (short of seeing a helicopter). Thus, the hysterics.
I learned an important lesson during that Utah trip: I need to be ready for whatever life throws my way by depending upon the Lord and not on my own strength. I also need to be more careful about what trails I follow my husband on!